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Title: The uncivilized races of men in all countries of the world; vol. 1 of 2

Author: J. G. Wood

Release date: September 30, 2022 [eBook #69073]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: J. B. Burr Publishing Co, 1875

Credits: Brian Coe, Harry Lamé, Jude Eylander and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)


Transcriber’s Notes

This is Volume I of II of this work, containing (after the front matter) pages 11-768, chapters I-LXXV, and illustration numbers 1-211; Volume II contains (after the front matter) page numbers 769-1481, chapters LXXVI-CLXX, and illustration numbers 212-443. For ease of reference, the Table of Contents, List of Illustrations and Index have been included in both volumes. Hyperlinks have only been provided for links internal to this volume.

More information on the transcription and the changes made may be found in the Transcriber’s Notes at the end of this text.

The cover image and music transcriptions have been created for this e-text and are in the public domain.



(See page ii.)





Rev. J. G. WOOD, M.A., F.L.S.







This work is simply, as the title-page states, an account of the manners and customs of uncivilized races of men in all parts of the world.

Many travellers have given accounts, scattered rather at random through their books, of the habits and modes of life exhibited by the various people among whom they have travelled. These notices, however, are distributed through a vast number of books, many of them very scarce, many very expensive, and most of them ill-arranged; and it has therefore been my task to gather together in one work, and to present to the reader in a tolerably systematic and intelligible form, the varieties of character which develop themselves among races which have not as yet lost their individuality by modern civilization. In this task I have been greatly assisted by many travellers, who have taken a kindly interest in the work, and have given me the invaluable help of their practical experience.

The engravings with which the work is profusely illustrated have been derived from many sources. For the most part the countenances of the people have been drawn from photographs, and in many instances whole groups taken by the photographer have been transferred to the wood-block, the artist only making a few changes of attitude, so as to avoid the unpleasant stiffness which characterizes photographic groups. Many of the illustrations are taken from sketches made by travellers, who have kindly allowed me to make use of them; and I must here express my thanks to Mr. T. Baines, the accomplished artist and traveller, who made many sketches expressly for the work, and placed at my disposal the whole of his diaries and portfolios. I must also express my thanks to Mr. J. B. Zwecker, who undertook the onerous task of interpreting pictorially the various scenes of savage life which are described in the work, and who brought to that task a hearty good-will and a wide knowledge of the subject, without which the work would have lost much of its spirit. The drawings of the weapons, implements, and utensils, are all taken from actual specimens, most of which are in my own collection, made, through a series of several years, for the express purpose of illustrating this work.

That all uncivilized tribes should be mentioned, is necessarily impossible, and I have been reluctantly forced to dismiss with a brief notice, many interesting people, to whom I would gladly have given a greater amount of space. Especially has this been the case with Africa, in consequence of the extraordinary variety of the native customs which prevail in that wonderful land. We have, for example, on one side of a river, a people well clothed, well fed, well governed, and retaining but few of the old savage customs. On the other side, we find people without clothes, government, manners, or morality, and sunk as deeply as man can be in all the squalid miseries of savage life. Besides, the chief characteristic of uncivilized Africa is the continual change to which it is subject. Some tribes are warlike and restless, always working their way seaward from the interior, carrying their own customs with them, forming settlements on their way, and invariably adding to their own habits and superstitions those of the tribes among whom they have settled. In process of time they become careless of the military arts by which they gained possession of the country, and are in their turn ousted by others, who bring fresh habits and modes of life with them. It will be seen, therefore, how full of incident is life in Africa, the great stronghold of barbarism, and how necessary it is to devote to that one continent a considerable portion of the work.



This work, which has been nearly three years going through the press in London, is one of the most valuable contributions that have been made to the literature of this generation. Rev. Dr. Wood, who ranks among the most popular and foremost writers of Great Britain, conceiving the idea of the work many years since, and commencing the collection of such articles, utensils, weapons, portraits, etc., as would illustrate the life and customs of the uncivilized races, was, undoubtedly, the best qualified of all living writers for such an undertaking. The work is so costly by reason of its hundreds of superior engravings, that few only will, or can avail themselves of the imported edition. Yet it is so replete with healthful information, so fascinating by its variety of incident, portraiture and manners, so worthy of a place in every household library, that we have reprinted it in order that it may be accessible to the multitude of readers in this country.

With the exception of a few paragraphs, not deemed essential by the American editor, and not making, in the aggregate, over four pages, the text of the two royal octavo volumes of nearly sixteen hundred pages, is given UNABRIDGED. The errors, incident to a first edition, have been corrected. By adopting a slightly smaller, yet very handsome and legible type, the two volumes are included in one. The beauty and value of the work are also greatly enhanced by grouping the engravings and uniting them, by cross references, with the letter-press they illustrate.

In one other and very essential respect is this superior to the English edition. Dr. Wood has given too brief and imperfect an account of the character, customs and life of the North American Indians, and the savage tribes of the Arctic regions. As the work was issued in monthly parts of a stipulated number, he may have found his space limited, and accordingly omitted a chapter respecting the Indians, that he had promised upon a preceding page. This deficiency has been supplied by the American editor, making the account of the Red Men more comprehensive, and adding some fine engravings to illustrate their appearance and social life. Having treated of the Ahts of Vancouver’s Island, the author crosses Behring Strait and altogether omits the interesting races of Siberia, passing at once from America to Southern Asia. To supply this chasm and make the work a complete “Tour round the World,” a thorough survey of the races “in all countries” which represent savage life, we have added an account of the Malemutes, Ingeletes and Co-Yukons of Alaska. An interesting chapter respecting the Tungusi, Jakuts, Ostiaks, and Samoiedes of Siberia, compiled from Dr. Hartwig’s “Polar World,” is also given. The usefulness and value of such a work as this are greatly enhanced by a minute and comprehensive index. In this respect, the English edition is very deficient,—its index occupying only a page. We have appended to the work one more than ten times as large, furnishing to the reader and student an invaluable help. Thus enlarged by letter-press and illustrations, this work is a complete and invaluable resumé of the manners, customs, and life of the Uncivilized Races of the World.


The Frontispiece gives a pictorial representation of African mankind. Superstition reigning supreme, the most prominent figure is the fetish priest, with his idols at his feet, and holding up for adoration the sacred serpent. War is illustrated by the Kaffir chief in the foreground, the Bosjesman with his bow and poisoned arrows, and the Abyssinian chief behind him. The gluttony of the Negro race is exemplified by the sensual faces of the squatting men with their jars of porridge and fruit. The grace and beauty of the young female is shown by the Nubian girl and Shooa woman behind the Kaffir; while the hideousness of the old women is exemplified by the Negro woman above with her fetish. Slavery is illustrated by the slave caravan in the middle distance, and the pyramids speak of the interest attached to Africa by hundreds of centuries.



1. Pictorial representation of African races Frontispiece.
2. Kaffir from childhood to age 13
3. Old councillor and wives 13
4. Kaffir cradle 18
5. Young Kaffir armed 21
6. Kaffir postman 21
7. Unmarried Kaffir girls 25
8. Old Kaffir women 25
9. Kaffir ornaments—necklaces, belt, etc. 33
10. Kaffir needles and sheaths 33
11. Articles of costume 33
12. Dolls representing the Kaffir dress 33
13. Bracelets made of the hoof of the bluebok 39
14. Apron of chief’s wife 39
15. Ivory armlets 39
16. Necklaces—beads and teeth 39
17. Young Kaffir in full dress 43
18. Girl in dancing dress 43
19. Kaffir ornaments 49
20. Dress and ornaments 49
21. The Kaffirs at home 57
22. Interior of a Kaffir hut 63
23. A Kaffir kraal 63
24. A Kaffir milking bowl 67
25. A Kaffir beer bowl 67
26. A Kaffir beer strainer 67
27. A Kaffir water pipe 67
28. Woman’s basket 67
29. Kaffir cattle—training the horns 73
30. Return of a Kaffir war party 73
31. Procession of the bride 83
32. Kaffir passing his mother-in-law 88
33. Bridegroom on approval 97
34. Kaffir at his forge 97
35. Spoons for eating porridge 103
36. Group of assagais 103
37. Kaffir warriors skirmishing 111
38. Muscular advocacy 111
39. Goza, the Kaffir chief, in ordinary undress 117
40. Goza in full war dress, with his councillors 117
41. Panda’s review 121
42. Hunting scene in Kaffirland 121
43. Cooking elephant’s foot 133
44. A Kaffir dinner party 145
45. Soldiers lapping water 145
46. A Kaffir harp 155
47. Exterior of a Kaffir hut 155
48. Spoon, ladle, skimmers 155
49. A Kaffir water pipe 155
50. A Kaffir fowl house 155
51. Necklace made of human finger bones 167
52. A remarkable gourd snuff-box 167
53. Poor man’s pipe 167
54. Kaffir gentlemen smoking 167
55. The prophet’s school 174
56. The prophet’s return 174
57. Old Kaffir prophets 177
58. The Kaffir prophetess at work 188
59. Unfavorable prophecy 188
60. Preserved head 203
61. Head of Mundurucú chief 203
62. Burial of King Tchaka’s mother 203
63. Dingan, the Kaffir monarch, at home 209
64. Kaffir women quarrelling 209
65. Hottentot girl 219
66. Hottentot woman 219
67. Hottentot young man 223
68. Hottentot in full dress 223
69. Hottentot kraal 229
70. Card playing by Hottentots 237
71. Bosjesman shooting cattle 237
72. Grapple plant 247
73. Bosjesman woman and child 247
74. Hottentots asleep 247
75. Bosjesman quiver 247
76. Frontlet of Hottentot girl 247
77. Poison grub 259
78. Portrait of Koranna chief 271
79. Namaquas shooting at the storm 271
80. Knife and assagai heads 281
81. Bechuana knives 281
82. A Bechuana apron 281
83. Ornament made of monkeys’ teeth 281
84. Bechuana parliament 287
85. Female architects among the Bechuanas 287
86. Magic dice of the Bechuanas 292
87. Spartan practices among the Bechuanas 294
88. The girl’s ordeal among the Bechuanas 294
89. Plan of Bechuana house 299
90. Bechuana funeral[iv] 302
91. Grave and monument of Damara chief 302
92. Damara warrior and wife 308
93. Damara girl resting 308
94. Portrait of Ovambo girl 317
95. Ovambo women pounding corn 317
96. Ovambo houses 329
97. Makololo house building 329
98. Children’s games among the Makololo 333
99. M’Bopo, a Makololo chief, at home 333
100. Spearing the hippopotamus 343
101. The final attack 343
102. Boating scene on the Bo-tlet-le River 351
103. Batoka salutation 351
104. Batoka men 357
105. Pelele, or lip ring, of the Manganjas 357
106. Hippopotamus trap 363
107. Axes of the Banyai 363
108. The marimba, or African piano 371
109. Singular headdress of the Balonda women 371
110. Wagogo greediness 387
111. Architecture of the Weezee 387
112. A husband’s welcome among the Weezee 391
113. Sultan Ukulima drinking pombé 391
114. Harvest scene among the Wanyamuezi 397
115. Salutation by the Watusi 397
116. Rumanika’s private band 404
117. Arrest of the queen 412
118. Reception of a visitor by the Waganda 417
119. The magician of Unyoro at work 417
120. Wanyoro culprit in the shoe 423
121. Group of Gani and Madi 431
122. Removal of a village by Madi 431
123. Group of the Kytch tribe 437
124. Neam-Nam fighting 437
125. Wooden chiefs of the Dôr 449
126. Scalp-locks of the Djibbas 449
127. Bracelets of the Djibbas 449
128. Ornaments of the Djour 449
129. Women’s knives 449
130. A Nuehr helmet 449
131. The Latooka victory 457
132. Gorilla hunting by the Fans 457
133. A Bari homestead 465
134. Funeral dance of the Latookas 465
135. The ceremony of M’paza 478
136. Obongo market 478
137. The giant dance of the Aponos 486
138. Fishing scene among the Bakalai 486
139. Ashira farewell 499
140. Olenda’s salutation to an Ishogo chief 499
141. A Camma dance 508
142. Quengueza’s (chief of the Camma) walk 508
143. The Camma fetish man ejecting a demon 517
144. Olanga drinking mboundou 517
145. Fate of the Shekiani wizard 526
146. The Mpongwé coronation 526
147. Attack on a Mpongwé village 537
148. Bargaining for a wife by the Fanti 537
149. The primeval child in Dahome 552
150. Fetishes, male and female, of the Krumen 552
151. Dahoman ivory trumpets 558
152. Dahoman war drum 558
153. War knives of the Fanti 558
154. Fetish trumpet and drum 558
155. Ashanti caboceer and soldiers 564
156. Punishment of a snake killer 564
157. “The bell comes” 569
158. Dahoman amazons 569
159. Amazon review 576
160. The Dahoman king’s dance 576
161. The basket sacrifice in Dahome 583
162. Head worship in Dahome 595
163. The attack on Abeokuta 595
164. The Alaké’s (king of the Egbas) court 605
165. Mumbo Jumbo 605
166. A Bubé marriage 612
167. Kanemboo man and woman 612
168. Washing day in Abyssinia 617
169. A Congo coronation 617
170. Ju-ju execution 619
171. Shooa women 631
172. Tuaricks and Tibboos 631
173. Begharmi lancers 638
174. Musgu chief 638
175. Dinner party in Abyssinia 643
176. Abyssinian heads 643
177. King Theodore and the lions 652
178. Pleaders in the courts 652
179. A battle between Abyssinians and Gallas 662
180. Interior of an Abyssinian house 662
181. Buffalo dance in Abyssinia 670
182. Bedouin camp 670
183. Hunting the hippopotamus 679
184. Travellers and the mirage 679
185. Travelling in Madagascar 692
186. Australian man and woman 698
187. Women and old man of Lower Murray 698
188. Hunter and his day’s provision 707
189. The sea-grass cloak 707
190. Bee hunting 716
191. Australian cooking a snake 716
192. Australian tomahawks 722
193. Australian clubs 722
194. Australian saw 722
195. Tattooing chisels 722
196. Man of Torres Strait 722
197. Basket—South Australia 722
198. Heads of Australian spears 731
199. Throw-sticks of the Australians 731
200. Boomerangs of the Australians 731
201. Spearing the kangaroo 739
202. Catching the cormorant 739
203. Australian shields 742
204. The kuri dance 749
205. Palti dance, or corrobboree 749
206. An Australian feast 759
207. Australian mothers 759
208. Mintalta, a Nauo man 765
209. Young man and boy of South Australia 765
210. Hut for cure of disease 765
211. Tomb of skulls 765
212. Tree tomb of Australia 775
213. Smoking bodies of slain warriors 775
214. Carved feather box[v] 775
215. Australian widows and their caps 781
216. Cave with native drawings 781
217. Winter huts in Australia 787
218. A summer encampment 787
219. New Zealander from childhood to age 794
220. Woman and boy of New Zealand 803
221. A tattooed chief and his wife 803
222. Maori women making mats 809
223. The Tangi 809
224. Parátene Maioha in his state war cloak 820
225. The chiefs daughter 820
226. Hongi-hongi, chief of Waipa 820
227. Maories preparing for a feast 831
228. Maori chiefs’ storehouses 831
229. Cannibal cookhouse 835
230. Maori pah 835
231. Green jade ornaments 841
232. Maori weapons 841
233. Wooden and bone merais 841
234. Maori war dance 847
235. Te Ohu, a native priest 860
236. A tiki at Raroera pah 860
237. Tiki from Whakapokoko 860
238. Mourning over a dead chief 872
239. Tomb of E’ Toki 872
240. Rangihaeta’s war house 877
241. Interior of a pah or village 877
242. Maori paddles 881
243. Green jade adze and chisel 881
244. Common stone adze 881
245. A Maori toko-toko 881
246. New Caledonians defending their coast 893
247. Andamaners cooking a pig 893
248. A scene in the Nicobar Islands 903
249. The Outanatas and their weapons 903
250. The monkey men of Dourga Strait 909
251. Canoes of New Guinea 909
252. Huts of New Guinea 916
253. Dance by torchlight in New Guinea 916
254. The ambassador’s message 924
255. The canoe in a breeze 924
256. Presentation of the canoe 937
257. A Fijian feast 943
258. The fate of the boaster 943
259. Fijian idol 949
260. The orator’s flapper 949
261. Fijian spear 949
262. Fijian clubs 949
263. A Fijian wedding 957
264. House thatching by Fijians 957
265. A Buré, or temple, in Fiji 963
266. View in Makira harbor 963
267. Man and woman of Vaté 973
268. Woman and child of Vanikoro 973
269. Daughter of Tongan chief 973
270. Burial of a living king 980
271. Interior of a Tongan house 980
272. The kava party in Tonga 988
273. Tongan plantation 991
274. Ceremony of inachi 991
275. The tow-tow 999
276. Consulting a priest 999
277. Tattooing day in Samoa 1012
278. Cloth making by Samoan women 1012
279. Samoan club 1018
280. Armor of Samoan warrior 1018
281. Beautiful paddle of Hervey Islanders 1018
282. Ornamented adze magnified 1018
283. Spear of Hervey Islanders 1018
284. Shark tooth gauntlets 1025
285. Samoan warriors exchanging defiance 1027
286. Pigeon catching by Samoans 1027
287. Battle scene in Hervey Islands 1035
288. Village in Kingsmill Islands 1035
289. Shark tooth spear 1041
290. Shark’s jaw 1041
291. Swords of Kingsmill Islanders 1041
292. Tattooed chiefs of Marquesas 1046
293. Marquesan chief’s hand 1046
294. Neck ornament 1046
295. Marquesan chief in war dress 1046
296. The war dance of the Niuans 1054
297. Tahitans presenting the cloth 1054
298. Dressing the idols by Society Islanders 1067
299. The human sacrifice by Tahitans 1077
300. Corpse and chief mourner 1077
301. Tane, the Tahitan god, returning home 1084
302. Women and pet pig of Sandwich Islands 1084
303. Kamehameha’s exploit with spears 1089
304. Masked rowers 1089
305. Surf swimming by Sandwich Islanders 1093
306. Helmet of Sandwich Islanders 1097
307. Feather idol of Sandwich Islanders 1097
308. Wooden idol of Sandwich Islanders 1097
309. Romanzoff Islanders, man and woman 1101
310. Dyak warrior and dusum 1101
311. Investiture of the rupack 1105
312. Warrior’s dance among Pelew Islanders 1105
313. Illinoan pirate and Saghai Dyak 1113
314. Dyak women 1113
315. Parang-latok of the Dyaks 1122
316. Sumpitans of the Dyaks 1122
317. Parang-ihlang of the Dyaks 1122
318. The kris, or dagger, of the Dyaks 1129
319. Shields of Dyak soldiers 1129
320. A parang with charms 1129
321. A Dyak spear 1129
322. Canoe fight of the Dyaks 1139
323. A Dyak wedding 1139
324. A Dyak feast 1147
325. A Bornean adze axe 1152
326. A Dyak village 1153
327. A Dyak house 1153
328. Fuegian man and woman 1163
329. Patagonian man and woman 1163
330. A Fuegian settlement 1169
331. Fuegians shifting quarters 1169
332. Araucanian stirrups and spur 1175
333. Araucanian lassos 1175
334. Patagonian bolas 1175
335. Spanish bit and Patagonian fittings 1175
336. Patagonians hunting game 1180
337. Patagonian village 1187
338. Patagonian burial ground[vi] 1187
339. A Mapuché family 1201
340. Araucanian marriage 1201
341. Mapuché medicine 1207
342. Mapuché funeral 1207
343. The macana club 1212
344. Guianan arrows and tube 1214
345. Gran Chaco Indians on the move 1218
346. The ordeal of the “gloves” 1218
347. Guianan blow guns 1225
348. Guianan blow-gun arrow 1225
349. Guianan winged arrows 1225
350. Guianan cotton basket 1225
351. Guianan quiver 1225
352. Guianan arrows rolled around stick 1225
353. Guianan arrows strung 1225
354. Feathered arrows of the Macoushies 1231
355. Cassava dish of the Macoushies 1231
356. Guianan quake 1231
357. Arrow heads of the Macoushies 1231
358. Guianan turtle arrow 1231
359. Guianan quiver for arrow heads 1231
360. Feather apron of the Mundurucús 1231
361. Head-dresses of the Macoushies 1238
362. Guianan clubs 1238
363. Guianan cradle 1238
364. A Warau house 1244
365. Lake dwellers of the Orinoco 1244
366. Guianan tipiti and bowl 1249
367. Guianan twin bottles 1249
368. Feather apron of the Caribs 1249
369. Bead apron of the Guianans 1249
370. The spathe of the Waraus 1249
371. The Maquarri dance 1260
372. Shield wrestling of the Waraus 1260
373. Jaguar bone flute of the Caribs 1265
374. Rattle of the Guianans 1265
375. Mexican stirrups 1265
376. Iron and stone tomahawks 1265
377. Indian shield and clubs 1265
378. Mandan chief Mah-to-toh-pa and wife 1277
379. A Crow chief 1284
380. American Indians scalping 1284
381. Flint-headed arrow 1290
382. Camanchees riding 1291
383. “Smoking” horses 1291
384. Snow shoe 1295
385. Bison hunting scene 1299
386. Buffalo dance 1299
387. The Mandan ordeal 1305
388. The last race 1305
389. The medicine man at work 1311
390. The ball play of the Choctaws 1311
391. Indian pipes 1315
392. Ee-e-chin-che-a in war costume 1318
393. Grandson of a Blackfoot chief 1318
394. Pshan-shaw, a girl of the Riccarees 1318
395. Flat-head woman and child 1319
396. Indian canoe 1322
397. Snow shoe dance 1322
398. Dance to the medicine of the brave 1322
399. The canoe race 1327
400. Esquimaux dwellings 1327
401. Esquimaux harpoon head 1337
402. Burial of Blackbird, an Omaha chief 1341
403. Esquimaux spearing the walrus 1341
404. The kajak and its management 1347
405. Esquimaux sledge driving 1347
406. Wrist-guard of the Esquimaux 1353
407. Esquimaux fish-hooks 1353
408. Feathered arrows of Aht tribe 1356
409. Ingenious fish-hook of the Ahts 1357
410. Remarkable carved pipes of the Ahts 1357
411. Bow of the Ahts of Vancouver’s Island 1357
412. Beaver mask of the Aht tribe 1357
413. Singular head-dress of the Aht chiefs 1357
414. Decorated paddles of the Ahts 1357
415. Canoe of the Ahts 1361
416. Aht dance 1367
417. Initiation of a dog eater 1367
418. A Sowrah marriage 1387
419. A Meriah sacrifice 1387
420. Bows and quiver of Hindoos 1394
421. Ingenious ruse of Bheel robbers 1397
422. A Ghoorka attacked by a tiger 1397
423. A Ghoorka necklace 1403
424. A kookery of the Ghoorka tribe 1403
425. The chakra or quoit weapon 1403
426. Indian arms and armor 1403
427. Suit of armor inlaid with gold 1406
428. Chinese repeating crossbow 1425
429. Mutual assistance 1427
430. Chinese woman’s foot and shoe 1428
431. Mandarin and wife 1437
432. Various modes of torture 1437
433. Mouth organ 1445
434. Specimens of Chinese art 1446
435. Decapitation of Chinese criminal 1451
436. The street ballad-singer 1451
437. Japanese lady in a storm 1454
438. Japanese lady on horseback 1455
439. Capture of the truant husbands 1464
440. Candlestick and censers 1465
441. Suit of Japanese armor 1469
442. King S. S. P. M. Mongkut of Siam 1469
443. Portrait of celebrated Siamese actress 1469



Chap. Page.
I. Intellectual Character 11
II. Course of Life 17
III. Course of LifeConcluded 20
IV. Masculine Dress and Ornaments 28
V. Masculine Dress and OrnamentsConcluded 36
VI. Feminine Dress and Ornaments 48
VII. Architecture 56
VIII. Cattle Keeping 66
IX. Marriage 75
X. MarriageConcluded 82
XI. War—Offensive Weapons 92
XII. War—Defensive Weapons 108
XIII. Hunting 126
XIV. Agriculture 138
XV. Food 143
XVI. Social Characteristics 159
XVII. Religion and Superstition 169
XVIII. Religion and SuperstitionContinued 180
XIX. SuperstitionConcluded 192
XX. Funeral Rites 200
XXI. Domestic Life 206
XXII. The Hottentot Races 217
XXIII. Marriage, Language, Amusements 232
XXIV. Appearance—Social Life 242
XXV. Architecture—Weapons 251
XXVI. Amusements 262
XXVII. Korannas and Namaquas 269
XXVIII. The Bechuanas 280
XXIX. The BechuanasConcluded 291
XXX. The Damara Tribe 304
XXXI. The Ovambo, or Ovampo 315
XXXII. The Makololo Tribe 324
XXXIII. The Bayeye and Makoba 337
XXXIV. The Batoka and Manganja 348
XXXV. The Banyai and Badema 361
XXXVI. The Balondo, or Balonda, and Angolese 369
XXXVII. Wagogo and Wanyamuezi 384
XXXVIII. Karague 399
XXXIX. The Watusi and Waganda 408
XL. The Wanyoro 422
XLI. Gani, Madi, Obbo, and Kytch 429
XLII. The Neam-Nam, Dôr, and Djour tribes 440
XLIII. The Latooka tribe 453
XLIV. The Shir, Bari, Djibba, Nuehr, Dinka, and Shillook tribes 461
XLV. The Ishogo, Ashango, and Obongo tribes 475
XLVI. The Apono and Apingi 484
XLVII. The Bakalai 491
XLVIII. The Ashira 496
XLIX. The Camma or Commi 504
L. The Shekiani and Mpongwé 521
LI. The Fans 529
LII. The FansConcluded 535
LIII. The Krumen and Fanti 544
LIV. The Ashanti 554
LV. Dahome 561
LVI. DahomeContinued 573
LVII. DahomeConcluded 581
LVIII. The Egbas 590
LIX. Bonny 600
LX. The Man-dingoes 607
LXI. The Bubes and Congoese 610
LXII. Bornu 620
LXIII. The Shooas, Tibboos, Tuaricks, Begharmis, and Musguese 628
LXIV. Abyssinians 641
LXV. AbyssiniansContinued 649
LXVI. AbyssiniansConcluded 658
LXVII. Nubians and Hamran Arabs 673
LXVIII. Bedouins, Hassaniyehs, and Malagasy 681
LXIX. Appearance and Character of Natives 694
LXX. Dress—Food 703
LXXI. Weapons 719
LXXII. WeaponsConcluded 727
LXXIII. War—Amusements 744
LXXIV. Domestic Life 755
LXXV. From Childhood to Manhood 761


Chap. Page.
LXXVI. Medicine—Surgery—Disposal of Dead 769
LXXVII. Dwellings—Canoes 784
LXXVIII. General Remarks 792
LXXIX. Dress 800
LXXX. DressConcluded 807
LXXXI. Domestic Life 816
LXXXII. Food and Cookery 826
LXXXIII. War 838
LXXXIV. Canoes 852
LXXXV. Religion 856
LXXXVI. The Tapu 863
LXXXVII. Funeral Ceremonies—Architecture 869
LXXXVIII. Appearance—Dress—Warfare 883
LXXXIX. Origin of Natives—Appearance—Character—Education 888
XC. Papuans and Outanatas 898
XCI. The Alfoërs or Haraforas 905
XCII. The Ajitas or Ahitas 919
XCIII. Appearance—Dress 922
XCIV. Manufactures 929
XCV. Government—Social Life 934
XCVI. War—Amusements 948
XCVII. Religion—Funeral Rites 960
XCVIII. Character—Dress—Customs 968
XCIX. Government—Gradations of Rank 976
C. War and Ceremonies 984
CI. Sickness—Burial—Games 997
CII. Appearance—Character—Dress 1008
CIII. War 1016
CIV. Amusements—Marriage—Architecture 1028
CV. Appearance—Weapons—Government 1032
CVI. Dress—Amusements—War—Burial 1044
CVII. Origin—Costume—Laws—Burial 1052
CVIII. Appearance—Dress—Social Customs 1057
CIX. Religion 1064
CX. History—War—Funerals—Legends 1072
CXI. Climate—Dress—Ornaments—Women 1081
CXII. War—Sport—Religion 1088
CXIII. Dress—Architecture—Amusements—War 1100
CXIV. The Dyaks, Appearance and Dress 1110
CXV. War 1119
CXVI. WarConcluded 1128
CXVII. Social Life 1137
CXVIII. Architecture, Manufactures 1149
CXIX. Religion—Omens—Funerals 1157
CXX. Appearance—Architecture—Manufactures 1161
CXXI. Appearance—Weapons—Horsemanship 1172
CXXII. Domestic Life 1183
CXXIII. Dress—Etiquette—Government 1190
CXXIV. Domestic Life 1196
CXXV. Games—Social Customs 1204
CXXVI. Appearance—Weapons—Character 1211
CXXVII. Manufactures—Social Customs 1215
CXXVIII. Weapons 1221
CXXIX. WeaponsConcluded 1228
CXXX. War—Superstition 1239
CXXXI. Architecture—Social Customs 1245
CXXXII. Dress—Amusements 1255
CXXXIII. Religion—Burial 1263
CXXXIV. History—Religion—Art 1271
CXXXV. Government—Customs 1273
CXXXVI. War 1281
CXXXVII. Hunting—Amusements 1293
CXXXVIII. Religion—Superstition 1301
CXXXIX. Social Life 1316
CXL. Appearance—Dress—Manners 1333
CXLI. Hunting—Religion—Burial 1338
CXLII. The Ahts, and Neighboring Tribes 1354
CXLIII. Canoes—Feasts—Dances 1362
CXLIV. Architecture—Religion—Disposal of Dead 1369
CXLV. Malemutes—Ingeletes—Co-yukons 1374
CXLVI. The Tchuktchi—Jakuts—Tungusi 1377
CXLVII. The Samoïedes—Ostiaks 1381
CXLVIII. The Sowrahs and Khonds 1385
CXLIX. Weapons 1395
CL. Sacrificial Religion 1407
CLI. The Indians, with relation to Animals 1416
CLII. The Mantchu Tartars 1422
CLIII. Appearance—Dress—Food 1426
CLIV. Warfare 1433
CLV. Social Characteristics 1441
CLVI. Dress—Art—Amusements 1449
CLVII. Miscellaneous Customs 1458
CLVIII. Government—Dress—Religion 1467
CLIX. The Swiss Lake-Dwellers 1473
CLX. The Makondé 1475
CLXI. The Waiyau 1478
CLXII. The Babisa and Babemba 1482
CLXIII. The Manyuema 1487
CLXIV. The ManyuemaConcluded 1492
CLXV. Unyamwezi 1496
CLXVI. Uvinza and Uhha 1500
CLXVII. The Monbuttoo 1503
CLXVIII. The Pygmies 1508
CLXIX. General Characteristics of African Tribes 1511
CLXX. The African Slave Trade 1515
CLXXI. The Kakhyens 1520




Over the whole of the Southern portion of the great Continent of Africa is spread a remarkable and interesting race of mankind. Though divided into numerous tribes, and differing in appearance, manners, and customs, they are evidently cast in the same mould, and belong to the same group of the human race. They are dark, but not so black as the true negro of the West. Their hair is crisp, short, and curled, but not so woolly as that of the negro; their lips, though large when compared with those of Europeans, are small when compared to those of the negro. The form is finely modelled, the stature tall, the limbs straight, the forehead high, the expression intelligent; and, altogether, this group of mankind affords as fine examples of the human form as can be found anywhere on the earth.

To give a name to this large group is not very easy. Popularly, the tribes which compose it are known as Kaffirs; but that term has now been restricted to the tribes on the south-east of the continent, between the sea and the range of the Draakensberg Mountains. Moreover, the name Kaffir is a very inappropriate one, being simply the term which the Moslem races apply to all who do not believe with themselves, and by which they designate black and white men alike. Some ethnologists have designated them by the general name of Chuanas, the word being the root of the well-known Bechuana, Sechuana, and similar names; while others have preferred the word Bantu, and others Zingian, which last word is perhaps the best.

Whatever may be the title, it is evident that they are not aborigines, but that they have descended upon Southern Africa from some other locality—probably from more northern parts of the same continent. Some writers claim for the Kaffir or Zingian tribes an Asiatic origin, and have a theory that in the course of their migration they mixed with the negroes, and so became possessed of the frizzled hair, the thick lips, the dark skin, and other peculiarities of the negro race.

Who might have been the true aborigines of Southern Africa cannot be definitely stated, inasmuch as even within very recent times great changes have taken place. At the present time South Africa is practically European, the white man, whether Dutch or English, having dispossessed the owners of the soil, and either settled upon the land or reduced the dark-skinned inhabitants to the rank of mere dependants. Those whom they displaced were themselves interlopers, having overcome and ejected the Hottentot tribes, who in their turn seem but to have suffered the same fate which in the time of their greatness they had brought upon others.

At the present day the great Zingian group affords the best type of the inhabitants of Southern Africa, and we will therefore begin with the Kaffir tribes.

If the reader will refer to a map of Africa, he will see that upon the south-east coast a long range of mountains runs nearly parallel with the sea-line, and extends from lat.[12] 27° to 33°. It is the line of the Draakensberg Mountains, and along the strip of land which intervenes between these mountains and the sea are found the genuine Kaffir tribes. There are other tribes belonging to the same group of mankind which are found on the western side of the Draakensberg, and are spread over the entire country, from Delagoa Bay on the east to the Orange River on the west. These tribes are familiar to readers of African travel under the names of Bechuanas, Bayeye, Namaqua, Ovampo, &c. But, by common consent, the name of Kaffir is now restricted to those tribes which inhabit the strip of country above mentioned.

Formerly, a considerable number of tribes inhabited this district, and were sufficiently distinct to be almost reckoned as different nations. Now, however, these tribes are practically reduced to five; namely, the Amatonga on the north, followed southward by the Amaswazi, the Amazulu, the Amaponda, and the Amakosa. Here it must be remarked that the prefix of “Ama,” attached to all the words, is one of the forms by which the plural of certain names is designated. Thus, we might speak of a single Tonga, Swazi, Zulu, or Ponda Kaffir; but if we wish to speak of more than one, we form the plural by prefixing “Ama” to the word.

The other tribes, although they for the most part still exist and retain the ancient names, are practically merged into those whose names have been mentioned.

Of all the true Kaffir tribes, the Zulu is the chief type, and that tribe will be first described. Although spread over a considerable range of country, the Zulu tribe has its headquarters rather to the north of Natal, and there may be found the best specimens of this splendid race of men. Belonging, as do the Zulu tribes, to the dark-skinned portion of mankind, their skin does not possess that dead, jetty black which is characteristic of the Western negro. It is a more transparent skin, the layer of coloring matter does not seem to be so thick, and the ruddy hue of the blood is perceptible through the black. It is held by the Kaffirs to be the perfection of human coloring; and a Zulu, if asked what he considers to be the finest complexion, will say that it is, like his own, black, with a little red.

Some dark-skinned nations approve of a fair complexion, and in some parts of the world the chiefs are so much fairer than the commonalty, that they seem almost to belong to different races. The Kaffir, however, holds precisely the opposite opinion. According to his views of human beauty, the blacker a man is the handsomer he is considered, provided that some tinge of red be perceptible. They carry this notion so far, that in sounding the praises of their king, an act at which they are very expert, they mention, as one of his excellences, that he chooses to be black, though, being so powerful a monarch, he might have been white if he had liked. Europeans who have resided for any length of time among the Kaffir tribes seem to imbibe similar ideas about the superior beauty of the black and red complexion. They become used to it, and perceive little varieties in individuals, though to an inexperienced eye the color would appear exactly similar in every person. When they return to civilized society they feel a great contempt for the pale, lifeless-looking complexion of Europeans, and some time elapses before they learn to view a fair skin and light hair with any degree of admiration. Examples of albinos are occasionally seen among the Kaffirs, but they are not pleasant-looking individuals, and are not admired by their blacker and more fortunate fellow-countrymen. A dark olive is, however, tolerably common, but the real hue of the skin is that of rather blackish chocolate. As is the case with the negro race, the newly born infant of a Kaffir is nearly as pale as that of a European, the dark hue becoming developed by degrees.

Though dark of hue, the Kaffirs are as fastidious about their dusky complexion as any European belle could be of her own fairer skin; and the pride with which a Kaffir, even though he be a man and a tried warrior, regards the shining, transparent black of his skin, has in it something ludicrous to an inhabitant of Europe.

The hair of the Kaffir, whether it belong to male or female, never becomes long, but envelopes the head in a close covering of crisp, woolly curls, very similar to the hair of the true negro. The lips are always large, the mouth wide, and the nose has very wide nostrils. These peculiarities the Kaffir has in common with the negro, and it now and then happens that an individual has these three features so strongly marked that he might be mistaken for a negro at first sight. A more careful view, however, would at once detect the lofty and intellectual forehead, the prominence of the nose, and the high cheek-bones, together with a nameless but decided cast of countenance, which marks them out from all other groups of the dark-skinned natives of Africa. The high cheek-bones form a very prominent feature in the countenances of the Hottentots and Bosjesmans, but the Kaffir cannot for a moment be mistaken for either one or the other, any more than a lion could be mistaken for a puma.


(See page 16.)

THE KAFFIR FROM CHILDHOOD TO AGE. From Photographic Portraits.

Married Man.

Old Councillor.

Unmarried Girl.

Old Woman.


Young Boy.

Unmarried Man or “Boy.”

Young Married Woman and Child.


(See page 12.)


The expression of the Kaffir face, especially when young, is rather pleasing; and, as a general rule, is notable when in repose for a slight plaintiveness, this expression being marked most strongly in the young, of both sexes. The dark eyes are lively and full of intellect, and a kind of cheerful good humor pervades the features. As a people, they are devoid of care. The three great causes of care in more civilized lands have but little influence on a Kaffir. The clothes which he absolutely needs are of the most trifling description, and in our sense of the word cannot be recognized as clothing at all. The slight hut which enacts the part of a house is constructed of materials that can be bought for about a shilling, and to the native cost nothing but the labor of cutting and carrying. His food, which constitutes his only real anxiety, is obtained far more easily than among civilized nations, for game-preserving is unknown in Southern Africa, and any bird or beast becomes the property of any one who chooses to take the trouble of capturing it. One of the missionary clergy was much struck by this utter want of care, when he was explaining the Scriptures to some dusky hearers. The advice “to take no thought for the morrow” had not the least effect on them. They never had taken any thought for the morrow, and never would do so, and rather wondered that any one could have been foolish enough to give them such needless advice.

There is another cause for this heedless enjoyment of the present moment; namely, an instinctive fatalism, arising from the peculiar nature of their government. The power of life and death with which the Kaffir rulers are invested is exercised in so arbitrary and reckless a manner, that no Kaffir feels the least security for his life. He knows perfectly well that the king may require his life at any moment, and he therefore never troubles himself about a future which may have no existence for him.

Of course these traits of character belong only to the Kaffir in their normal condition; for, when these splendid savages have placed themselves under the protection of Europeans, the newly-felt security of life produces its natural results, and they will display forethought which would do no discredit to a white man. A lad, for example, will give faithful service for a year, in order to obtain a cow at the end of that time. Had he been engaged while under the rule of his own king, he would have insisted on prepayment, and would have honorably fulfilled his task provided that the king did not have him executed. Their fatalism is, in fact, owing to the peculiarly logical turn of a Kaffir’s mind, and his determination to follow an argument to its conclusion. He accepts the acknowledged fact that his life is at the mercy of the king’s caprice, and draws therefrom the inevitable conclusion that he can calculate on nothing beyond the present moment.

The lofty and thoughtful forehead of the Kaffir does not belie his character, for, of all savage races, the Kaffir is perhaps the most intellectual. In acts he is honorable and straightforward, and, with one whom he can trust, his words will agree with his actions. But he delights in controversy, and has a special faculty for the Socratic mode of argument; namely, by asking a series of apparently unimportant questions, gradually hemming in his adversary, and forcing him to pronounce his own sentence of condemnation. If he suspects another of having committed a crime, and examines the supposed culprit before a council, he will not accuse him directly of the crime, but will cross-examine him with a skill worthy of any European lawyer, each question being only capable of being answered in one manner, and so eliciting successive admissions, each of which forms a step in the argument.

An amusing example of this style of argument is given by Fleming. Some Kaffirs had been detected in eating an ox, and the owner brought them before a council, demanding payment for the ox. Their defence was that they had not killed the animal, but had found it dying from a wound inflicted by another ox, and so had considered it as fair spoil. When their defence had been completed, an old Kaffir began to examine the previous speaker, and, as usual, commenced by a question apparently wide of the subject.

Q. “Does an ox tail grow up, down, or sideways?”

A. “Downward.”

Q. “Do its horns grow up, down, or sideways?”

A. “Up.”

Q. “If an ox gores another, does he not lower his head and gore upward?”

A. “Yes.”

Q. “Could he gore downward?”

A. “No.”

The wily interrogator then forced the unwilling witness to examine the wound which he asserted to have been made by the horn of another ox, and to admit that the slain beast had been stabbed and not gored.

Mr. Grout, the missionary, mentions an instance of the subtle turn of mind which distinguishes an intelligent Kaffir. One of the converts came to ask what he was to do if he went on a journey with his people. It must first be understood that a Kaffir takes no provisions when travelling, knowing that he will receive hospitality on the way.

“What shall I do, when I am out on a journey among the people, and they offer such food as they have, perhaps the flesh of an animal which has been slaughtered in honor of the ghosts of the departed? If I eat it, they will say, ‘See there! he is a believer in our religion—he partakes with us of the meat offered to our gods.’ And if I do not eat, they will say, ‘See there! he is a believer in the existence and power of our gods, else why does he hesitate to eat of the meat which we have slaughtered to them?’”


Argument is a Kaffir’s native element, and he likes nothing better than a complicated debate where there is plenty of hair-splitting on both sides. The above instances show that a Kaffir can appreciate a dilemma as well as the most accomplished logicians, and he is master of that great key of controversy,—namely, throwing the burden of proof on the opponent. In all his controversy he is scrupulously polite, never interrupting an opponent, and patiently awaiting his own turn to speak. And when the case has been fully argued, and a conclusion arrived at, he always bows to the decision of the presiding chief, and acquiesces in the judgment, even when a penalty is inflicted upon himself.

Trained in such a school, the old and influential chief, who has owed his position as much to his intellect as to his military repute, becomes a most formidable antagonist in argument, especially when the question regards the possession of land and the boundaries to be observed. He fully recognizes the celebrated axiom that language was given for the purpose of concealing the thoughts, and has recourse to every evasive subterfuge and sophism that his subtle brain can invent. He will mix truth and falsehood with such ingenuity that it is hardly possible to separate them. He will quietly “beg the question,” and then proceed as composedly as if his argument were a perfectly fair one. He will attack or defend, as best suits his own case, and often, when he seems to be yielding point after point, he makes a sudden onslaught, becomes in his turn the assailant, and marches to victory over the ruins of his opponent’s arguments.

On page 13 the reader will find a portrait of one of the councillors attached to Goza, the well-known Kaffir chief, of whom we shall learn more presently. And see what a face the man has—how his broad forehead is wrinkled with thought, and how craftily his black eyes gleam from under their deep brows. Half-naked savage though he be, the man who will enter into controversy with him will find no mean antagonist, and, whether the object be religion or politics, he must beware lest he find himself suddenly defeated exactly when he felt most sure of victory. The Maori of New Zealand is no mean adept at argument, and in many points bears a strong resemblance to the Kaffir character. But, in a contest of wits between a Maori chief and a Zulu councillor, the latter would be nearly certain to come off the victor.

As a rule, the Kaffir is not of a revengeful character, nor is he troubled with that exceeding techiness which characterizes some races of mankind. Not that he is without a sense of dignity. On the contrary, a Kaffir can be among the most dignified of mankind when he wishes, and when there is some object in being so. But he is so sure of himself that, like a true gentleman, he never troubles himself about asserting his dignity. He is so sure that no real breach of respect can be wilfully committed, that a Kaffir will seldom hesitate to play a practical joke upon another—a proceeding which would be the cause of instant bloodshed among the Malays. And, provided that the joke be a clever one, no one seems to enjoy it more than the victim.

One resident in Kaffirland mentions several instances of the tendency of the Kaffirs toward practical joking. A lad in his service gravely told his fellow-countrymen that all those who came to call on the Englishmen were bound by etiquette to kneel down and kiss the ground at a certain distance from the house. The natives, born and bred in a system of etiquette equal to that of any court in Europe, unhesitatingly obeyed, while the lad stood by, superintending the operation, and greatly enjoying the joke. After a while, the trick was discovered, and no one appreciated the boy’s wit more than those who had fallen into the snare.

Another anecdote, related by the same author, seems as if it had been transplanted from a First of April scene in England. A woman was bringing home a pumpkin, and, according to the usual mode of carrying burdens in Africa, was balancing it on her head. A mischievous boy ran hastily to her, and, with a face of horror, exclaimed, “There’s something on your head!” The woman, startled at the sudden announcement, thought that at least a snake had got on her head, and ran away screaming. Down fell the pumpkin, and the boy picked it up, and ate it before the woman recovered from her fright.

The Kaffir is essentially hospitable. On a journey, any one may go to the kraal of a stranger, and will certainly be fed and lodged, both according to his rank and position. White men are received in the same hospitable manner, and, in virtue of their white skin and their presumed knowledge, they are always ranked as chiefs, and treated according.

The Kaffirs are singularly domestic people, and, semi-nomad as they are, cling with great affection to their simple huts. Chiefs and warriors of known repute may be seen in their kraals, nursing and fondling their children with no less affection than is exhibited by the mothers. Altogether, the Kaffir is a social being. He cannot endure living alone, eating alone, smoking alone, snuffing alone, or even cooking alone, but always contrives to form part of some assemblage devoted to the special purpose. Day by day, the men assemble and converse with each other, often treating of political affairs, and training themselves in that school of forensic argument which has already been mentioned.




Having glanced rapidly over the principal traits of Kaffir character, we will proceed to trace his life with somewhat more detail.

When an infant is born, it is, as has been already mentioned, of a light hue, and does not gain the red-black of its parents until after some little time has elapsed. The same phenomenon takes place with the negro of Western Africa. Almost as soon as the Kaffir is born the “medicine-man” is called, and discharges his functions in a manner very different from “medical men” in our own country. He does not trouble himself in the least about the mother, but devotes his whole care to the child, on whom he performs an operation something like that of vaccination, though not for the same object. He makes small incisions on various parts of the body, rubs medicine into them, and goes his way. Next day he returns, takes the unhappy infant, deepens the cuts, and puts more medicine into them. The much-suffering child is then washed, and is dried by being moved about in the smoke of a wood fire. Surviving this treatment by some singular tenacity of life, the little creature is then plentifully bedaubed with red paint, and the proud mother takes her share of the adornment. This paint is renewed as fast as it wears off, and is not discontinued until after a lapse of several months.


“Once,” writes Mr. Shooter, “when I saw this paint put on, the mother had carefully washed a chubby boy, and made him clean and bright. She then took up the fragment of an earthenware pot, which contained a red fluid, and, dipping her fingers into it, proceeded to daub her son until he became the most grotesque-looking object it was ever my fortune to behold. What remained, being too precious to waste, was transferred to her own face.” Not until all these absurd preliminaries are completed, is the child allowed to take its natural food; and it sometimes happens that when the “medicine-man” has delayed his coming, the consequences to the poor little creature have been extremely disastrous. After the lapse of a few days, the mother goes about her work as usual, carrying the child strapped on her back, and, in spite of the load, she makes little, if any, difference in the amount of her daily tasks. And, considering that all the severe work falls upon the women, it is wonderful that they should contrive to do any work at all under the circumstances. The two principal tasks of the women are, breaking up the ground with a heavy and clumsy tool, something between a pickaxe and a mattock, and grinding the daily supply of corn between two stones, and either of these tasks would prove quite enough for any ordinary laborer, though the poor woman has to perform both, and plenty of minor tasks besides. That they should have to do all this work, while laboring under the incumbrance of a heavy and growing child hung on the back, does really seem very hard upon the women. But they, having never known any other state of things, accept their laborious married life as a matter of course.

When the mother carries her infant to the field, she mostly slings it to her back by means of a wide strip of some soft skin, which she passes round her waist so as to[18] leave a sort of pocket behind in which the child may lie. In this primitive cradle the little creature reposes in perfect content, and not even the abrupt movements to which it is necessarily subjected will disturb its slumbers.

The wife of a chief or wealthy man will not, however, rest satisfied with the mere strip of skin by way of a cradle, but has one of an elaborate and ornamental character. The illustration represents a remarkably fine example of the South African cradle, and is drawn from a specimen in my collection.

It is nearly two feet in length by one in width, and is made of antelope skin, with the hair still remaining. The first care of the maker has been to construct a bag, narrow toward the bottom, gradually widening until within a few inches of the opening, when it again contracts. This form very effectually prevents an active or restless child from falling out of its cradle. The hairy side of the skin is turned inward, so that the little one has a soft and pleasant cradle in which to repose. In order to give it this shape, two “gores” have been let into the back of the cradle, and are sewed with that marvellous neatness which characterizes the workmanship of the Kaffir tribes. Four long strips of the same skin are attached to the opening of the cradle, and by means of them the mother can bind her little one securely on her back.

As far as usefulness goes, the cradle is now complete, but the woman is not satisfied unless ornament be added. Though her rank—the wife of a chief—does not exonerate her from labor, she can still have the satisfaction of showing her position by her dress, and exciting envy among her less fortunate companions in the field. The entire front of the cradle is covered with beads, arranged in regular rows. In this specimen, two colors only are used; namely, black and white. The black beads are polished glass, while the others are of the color which are known as “chalk-white,” and which is in great favor with the Kaffirs, on account of the contrast which it affords to their dusky skin. The two central rows are black. The cradle weighs rather more than two pounds, half of which is certainly due to the profusion of beads with which it is covered.

Except under peculiar circumstances, the Kaffir mother is a kind, and even indulgent parent to her children. There are, however, exceptional instances, but, in these cases, superstition is generally the moving power. As with many nations in different parts of the earth, although abundance of children is desired, twins are not in favor; and when they make their appearance one of them is sacrificed, in consequence of a superstitious notion that, if both twins are allowed to live, something unlucky would happen to the parents.

As the children grow, a certain difference in their treatment is perceptible. In most savage nations, the female children are comparatively neglected, and very ill treatment falls on them, while the males are considered as privileged to do pretty well what they like without rebuke. This, however, is not the case with the Kaffirs. The parents have plenty of respect for their sons as the warriors of the next generation, but they have also respect for their daughters as a source of wealth. Every father is therefore glad to see a new-born child, and welcomes it whatever may be its sex—the boys to increase the power of his house, the girls to increase the number of his cattle. He knows perfectly well that, when his little girl is grown up, he can obtain at least[19] eight cows for her, and that, if she happens to take the fancy of a rich or powerful man, he may be fortunate enough to procure twice the number. And, as the price which is paid to the father of a girl depends very much on her looks and condition, she is not allowed to be deteriorated by hard work or ill-treatment. These generally come after marriage, and, as the wife does not expect anything but such treatment, she does not dream of complaining.

The Kaffir is free from the chief anxieties that attend a large family in civilized countries. He knows nothing of the thousand artificial wants which cluster round a civilized life, and need not fear lest his offspring should not be able to find a subsistence. Neither is he troubled lest they should sink below that rank in which they were born. Not that there are no distinctions of rank in Kaffirland. On the contrary, there are few parts of the world where the distinctions of rank are better appreciated, or more clearly defined. But, any one may attain the rank of chief, provided that he possesses the mental or physical characteristics that can raise him above the level of those who surround him, and, as is well known, some of the most powerful monarchs who have exercised despotic sway in Southern Africa have earned a rank which they could not have inherited, and have created monarchies where the country had formerly been ruled by a number of independent chieftains. These points may have some influence upon the Kaffir’s conduct as a parent, but, whatever may be the motives, the fact remains, that among this fine race of savages there is no trace of the wholesale infanticide which is so terribly prevalent among other nations, and which is accepted as a social institution among some that consider themselves among the most highly civilized of mankind.

As is the case in many parts of the world, the natives of South Africa undergo a ceremony of some sort, which marks their transition from childhood to a more mature age. There has been rather a sharp controversy respecting the peculiar ceremony which the Kaffirs enjoin, some saying that it is identical with the rite of circumcision as practised by the Jews, and others that such a custom does not exist. The fact is, that it used to be universal throughout Southern Africa, until that strange despot, Tchaka, chose arbitrarily to forbid it among the many tribes over which he ruled. Since his death, however, the custom has been gradually re-introduced, as the men of the tribes believed that those who had not undergone the rite were weaker than would otherwise have been the case, and were more liable to gray hairs. Now with a Kaffir a hoary head is by no means a crown of glory, but is looked upon as a sign of debility. A chief dreads nothing so much as the approach of gray hairs, knowing that the various sub-chiefs, and other ambitious men who are rising about him, are only too ready to detect any sign of weakness, and to eject him from his post. Europeans who visit elderly chiefs are almost invariably asked if they have any preparation that will dye their gray hairs black. So, the dread of such a calamity occurring at an early age would be quite sufficient to make a Kaffir resort to any custom which he fancied might prevent it.

After the ceremony, which is practised in secret, and its details concealed with inviolable fidelity, the youths are permitted three months of unlimited indulgence: doing no work, and eating, sleeping, singing, and dancing, just as they like. They are then permitted to bear arms, and, although still called “boys,” are trained as soldiers and drafted into different regiments. Indeed, it is mostly from these regiments that the chief selects the warriors whom he sends on the most daring expeditions. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and, if they distinguish themselves, may be allowed to assume the “head-ring,” the proud badge of manhood, and to marry as many wives as they can manage to pay for. A “boy”—no matter what his age might be—would not dare to assume the head-ring without the permission of his chief, and there is no surer mode of gaining permission than by distinguished conduct in the field, whether in open fight, or in stealing cattle from the enemy.

The necessity for undergoing some rite when emerging from childhood is not restricted to the men, but is incumbent on the girls, who are carried off into seclusion by their initiators, and within a year from their initiation are allowed to marry.




When the youths and maidens are in the full bloom of youth, they afford as fine specimens of humanity as can be seen anywhere. Their limbs have never been subject to the distorting influences of clothing, nor their forms to the absurd compression which was, until recently, destructive of all real beauty in this and neighboring countries. Each muscle and sinew has had fair play, the lungs have breathed fresh air, and the active habits have given to the form that rounded perfection which is never seen except in those who have enjoyed similar advantages. We all admire the almost superhuman majesty of the human form as seen in ancient sculpture, and we need only to travel to Southern Africa to see similar forms, yet breathing and moving, not motionless images of marble, but living statues of bronze. This classic beauty of form is not peculiar to Southern Africa, but is found in many parts of the world where the inhabitants lead a free, active, and temperate life.

My readers will probably remember the well-known anecdote of West the painter surprising the critical Italians with his remarks. Bred in a Quaker family, he had no acquaintance with ancient art; and when he first visited Rome, he was taken by a large assembly of art-critics to see the Apollo Belvedere. As soon as the doors were thrown open, he exclaimed that the statue represented a young Mohawk warrior, much to the indignation of the critics, who foolishly took his exclamation as derogatory to the statue, rather than the highest and most genuine praise. The fact was, that the models from whom the sculptor had composed his statue, and the young Mohawk warriors so familiar to West, had received a similar physical education, and had attained a similar physical beauty. “I have seen them often,” said West, “standing in the very attitude of this Apollo, and pursuing with an intent eye the arrow which they had just discharged from the bow.”

There is, indeed, but one fault that the most captious critic can find with the form of the Kaffir, and that is, a slight deficiency in the fall of the shoulder. As a race, the Kaffirs are slightly high-shouldered, though there are many instances where the slope from the neck to the arm is exactly in accordance with the canons of classic art.

These young fellows are marvellously swift of foot, speed reckoning as one of the chief characteristics of a distinguished soldier. They are also possessed of enormous endurance. You may send a Kaffir for sixty or seventy miles with a letter, and he will prepare for the start as quietly as if he had only a journey of some three or four miles to perform. First, he cuts a stick some three feet in length, splits the end, and fixes the letter in the cleft, so that he may carry the missive without damaging it by the grease with which his whole person is liberally anointed. He then looks to his supply of snuff, and, should he happen to run short of that needful luxury, it will add wings to his feet if a little tobacco be presented to him, which he can make into snuff at his first halt.


(See page 20.)

(See page 20.)


Taking an assagai or two with him, and perhaps a short stick with a knob at the end, called a “kerry,” he will start off at a slinging sort of mixture between a run and a trot, and will hold this pace almost without cessation. As to provision for the journey, he need not trouble himself about it, for he is sure to fall in with some hut, or perhaps a village, and is equally sure of obtaining both food and shelter. He steers his course almost as if by intuition, regardless of beaten tracks, and arrives at his destination with the same mysterious certainty that characterizes the migration of the swallow.

It is not so easy to address a letter in Africa as in England, and it is equally difficult to give directions for finding any particular house or village. If a chief should be on a visit, and ask his host to return the call, he simply tells him to go so many days in such a direction, and then turn for half a day in another direction, and so on. However, the Kaffir is quite satisfied with such indications, and is sure to attain his point.

When the messenger has delivered his letter, he will squat down on the ground, take snuff, or smoke—probably both—and wait patiently for the answer. As a matter of course, refreshments will be supplied to him, and, when the answer is handed to him, he will return at the same pace. Europeans are always surprised when they first see a young Kaffir undertake the delivery of a letter at so great a distance, and still more at the wonderfully short time in which he will perform the journey. Nor are they less surprised when they find that he thinks himself very well paid with a shilling for his trouble. In point of fact, the journey is scarcely troublesome at all. He has everything his own way. There is plenty of snuff in his box, tobacco wherewith to make more, the prospect of seeing a number of fellow-countrymen on the way, and enjoying a conversation with them, the dignity of being a messenger from one white chief to another, and the certainty of obtaining a sum of money which will enable him to adorn himself with a splendid set of beads at the next dance.

Barefoot though he be, he seldom complains of any hurt. From constant usage the soles of his feet are defended by a thickened skin as insensible as the sole of any boot, and combining equal toughness with perfect elasticity. He will walk with unconcern over sharp stones and thorns which would lame a European in the first step, and has the great advantage of possessing a pair of soles which never wear out, but actually become stronger by use. Mr. Baines, the African hunter, narrates a rather ludicrous instance of the insensibility of the Kaffir’s foot. Passing by some Kaffir houses, he heard doleful outcries, and found that a young boy was undergoing a medical or surgical operation, whichever may be the proper name. The boy was suffering from some ailment for which the medicine-man prescribed a thorough kneading with a hot substance. The plan by which the process was carried out was simple and ingenious. A Kaffir man held his own foot over the fire until the sole became quite hot. The boy was then held firmly on the ground, while the man trampled on him with the heated foot, and kneaded him well with this curious implement of medicine. When that foot was cold, he heated the other, and so proceeded till the operation was concluded. The heat of his sole was so great that the poor boy could scarcely endure the pain, and struggled hard to get free, but the operator felt no inconvenience whatever from subjecting his foot to such an ordeal. The dreaded “stick” of the Orientals would lose its terrors to a Kaffir, who would endure the bastinado with comparative impunity.

Among these people, the foot assumes its proper form and dimensions. The toes are not pinched together by shoes or boots, and reduced to the helpless state too common in this country. The foot is, like that of an ancient statue, wide and full across the toes, each of which has its separate function just as have the fingers of the hand, and each of which is equally capable of performing that function. Therefore the gait of a Kaffir is perfection itself. He has not had his foot lifted behind and depressed in front by high-heeled boots, nor the play of the instep checked by leathern bonds. The wonderful arch of the foot—one of the most astonishing pieces of mechanism that the world affords—can perform its office unrestrained, and every little bone, muscle and tendon plays its own part, and none other.

The constant activity of the Kaffirs, conjoined to their temperate mode of life, keeps them in perfect health, and guards them against many evils which befall the civilized man. They are free from many of the minor ailments incident to high civilization, and which, trifling as they may be singly, detract greatly in the aggregate from the happiness of life. Moreover, their state of health enables them to survive injuries which would be almost instantly fatal to any ordinary civilized European. That this comparative immunity is owing to the mode of life and not to the color of the skin is a well-known fact, Europeans being, when in thorough good health, even more enduring than their dark-skinned companions. A remarkable instance of this fact occurred during the bloody struggle between the Dutch colonists and Dingan’s forces in 1837. The Kaffirs treacherously assaulted the unsuspecting Dutchmen, and then invaded their villages, spearing all the inhabitants and destroying the habitations. Near the Blue Krantz River was a heap of dead, among whom were[24] found two young girls, who still showed signs of life. One had received nineteen stabs with the assagai, and the other twenty-one. They were removed from the corpses, and survived their dreadful wounds, reaching womanhood, though both crippled for life.

On one occasion, while I was conversing with Captain Burton, and alluding to the numerous wounds which he had received, and the little effect which they had upon him, he said that when the human frame was brought, by constant exercise and simple diet, into a state of perfect health, mere flesh wounds were scarcely noticed, the cut closing almost as easily as if it had been made in India-rubber. It may also be familiar to my readers, that when in this country men are carefully trained for any physical exertion, whether it be pedestrianism, gymnastics, rowing, or the prize-ring, they receive with indifference injuries which would have prostrated them a few months previously, and recover from them with wonderful rapidity.

The young Kaffir women are quite as remarkable for the beauty of their form as are the men, and the very trifling dress which they wear serves to show off their figures to the best advantage. Some of the young Kaffir girls are, in point of form, so perfect that they would have satisfied even the fastidious taste of the classical sculptor. There is, however, in them the same tendency to high shoulders which has already been mentioned, and in some cases the shoulders are set almost squarely across the body. In most instances, however, the shoulders have the proper droop, while the whole of the bust is an absolute model of perfection—rounded, firm, and yet lithe as the body of a panther.

There is now before me a large collection of photographs, representing Kaffir girls of various ages, and, in spite of the invariable stiffness of photographic portraits, they exhibit forms which might serve as models for any sculptor. If they could only have been photographed while engaged in their ordinary pursuits, the result would have been most artistic, but the very knowledge that they were not to move hand or foot has occasioned them to assume attitudes quite at variance with the graceful unconsciousness of their ordinary gestures.

Besides the stiffness which has already been mentioned, there are several points which make a really good photographic portrait almost an impossibility. In the first place, the sunlight is so brilliant that the shadows become developed into black patches, and the high lights into splashes of white without the least secondary shading. The photographer of Kaffir life cannot put his models into a glass room cunningly furnished with curtains and tinted glass. He must take the camera into the villages, photograph the inhabitants as they stand or sit in the open air, and make a darkened hut act as a developing-tent.

Taking the portrait properly is a matter of extreme difficulty. The Kaffirs will rub themselves with grease, and the more they shine the better they are dressed. Now, as every photographer knows, nothing is more perplexing than a rounded and polished surface in the full rays of the sunbeams; and if it were only possible to rub the grease from the dark bodies, and deprive them of their gloss, the photographer would have a better chance of success. But the Kaffir ladies, old and young alike, think it a point of honor to be dressed in their very best when their portraits are taken, and will insist upon bedizening themselves exactly in the way which is most destructive to photography. They take fresh grease, and rub their bodies until they shine like a well-polished boot; they indue every necklace, girdle, bracelet, or other ornament that they can muster, and not until they are satisfied with their personal appearance will they present themselves to the artist. Even when they have done so, they are restless, inquisitive, and rather nervous, and in all probability will move their heads just as the cap of the lens is removed, or will take fright and run away altogether. In the case of the two girls represented in the illustration, on page 25, the photographer has been singularly fortunate. Both the girls belonged to the tribe commanded by the well-known chief Goza, whose portrait will be given on a subsequent page. The girls are clad in their ordinary costume of every-day life, and in fact, when their portraits were taken, were acting as housemaids in the house of an European settler.

Unfortunately, this singular beauty of form is very transient; and when a girl has attained to the age at which an English girl is in her full perfection, the Kaffir girl has begun to age, and her firm, lithe, and graceful form has become flabby and shapeless. In the series of portraits which has been mentioned, this gradual deterioration of form is curiously evident; and in one example, which represents a row of girls sitting under the shade of a hut, young girls just twenty years of age look like women of forty.


(See page 21.)

(See page 27.)


The chief drawback to a Kaffir girl’s beauty lies in her face, which is never a beautiful one, according to European ideas on this subject. It is mostly a pleasant, good-humored face, but the cheek-bones are too high, the nose too wide, and the lips very much too large. The two which have been already represented are by far the most favorable specimens of the collection, and no one can say that their faces are in any way equal to their forms. It may be that their short, crisp, harsh, woolly hair, so different from the silken tresses of European women, produces some feeling of dislike; but, even if they were furnished with the finest and most massive head of hair, they could never be called handsome. People certainly do get used to their peculiar style, and sometimes prefer the wild beauty of a Kaffir girl to the more refined, though more insipid, style of the European. Still, few Englishmen would think themselves flattered if their faces were thought to resemble the features of a Kaffir of the same age, and the same rule will apply to the women as well as to the men.

Unfortunately, the rapidity with which the Kaffir women deteriorate renders them very unsightly objects at an age in which an European woman is in her prime. Among civilized nations, age often carries with it a charming mixture of majesty and simplicity, which equally command our reverence and our love. Among this people, however, we find nothing in their old age to compensate for the lost beauty of youth. They do not possess that indefinable charm which is so characteristic of the old age of civilized woman, nor is there any vestige of that spiritual beauty which seems to underlie the outward form, and to be even more youthful than youth itself. Perhaps one reason for this distinction may be the uncultivated state of the mind; but, whatever may be the cause, in youth the Kaffir woman is a sylph, in old age a hag.




Having now described the general appearance of the Kaffirs from childhood to age, we will proceed to the costume which they wear, and the ornaments with which they decorate their dark persons. The material of which dress is made depends much on the characteristics of the country. In some parts of the world linen is used, in another silk, and in another cotton. In Southern Africa, however, and indeed throughout a very large portion of the continent, the dress, whether of men or women, is composed of the skins and furs of animals. The country abounds in game, especially of the antelope tribe; and the antelopes, the zebras and their kin, the beasts of prey, the monkey tribes and the oxen, afford a vast store from which the Kaffir can take his clothing, and vary it almost without bounds.

The Kaffir is an admirable dresser of furs. He bestows very great pains on the process, and arrives at a result which cannot be surpassed by the best of European furriers, with all his means and appliances. Kaffir furs, even those made from the stiff and stubborn hide of the ox, are as soft and pliable as silk; and if they be wetted, they will dry without becoming harsh and stiff. For large and thick skins a peculiar process is required. The skin of the cow, for example, will become as hard as a board when dry, and even that of the lion is apt to be very stiff indeed when dried. The process of preparing such skins is almost absurdly simple and expeditious, while its efficacy is such that our best fur-dressers cannot produce such articles as the Kaffirs do.

Supposing that a cow-skin is to be made into a robe, the Kaffir will ask two or three of his comrades to help him. They all sit round the skin, and scrape it very carefully, until they have removed every particle of fat, and have also reduced the thickness. They then stretch it in every direction, pulling against each other with all their might, working it over their knees, and taking care that not an inch of it shall escape without thorough manipulation. Of course they talk, and sing, and smoke, and take snuff while performing the task, which is to them a labor of love. If, indeed, it were not, they would not perform it, but hand it over to their wives. When they have kneaded it as much as they think necessary, they proceed to another operation. They take eight or ten of their skewer-like needles, and tie them together in a bundle, each man being furnished with one of these bundles. The points are then placed perpendicularly upon the skin, and the bundle made to revolve backward and forward between the hands. This process tears up the fibres of the skin, and adds to its pliancy, besides raising a sort of nap, which in some of their dresses is so thick and fine as to resemble plush.

Sometimes, when needles are scarce, the long straight thorns of the acacia are tied together, and used in a similar manner. Although not so strong, their natural points are quite as sharp as the artificial points made of iron, and do their work as effectually. Some of my readers may remember that the nap on cloth is raised by a method exactly similar in principle, the thorny seed-vessels of the teasle thistle being fastened on cylinders and made to revolve quickly[29] over the surface of the cloth, so as to raise a “nap” which conceals the course of the threads. These acacia thorns are used for a wonderful variety of purposes, and are even pressed into the service of personal vanity, being used as decorations for the hair on festive occasions.

The skin is now ready for the ingredient that forms a succedaneum for the tanpit, and that does its work in a very short time. As the reader is perhaps aware, the acacia is one of the commonest trees in Southern Africa. The sap of the tree is of a very astringent character, and communicates its properties to the bark through which it percolates. In consequence, the white inhabitants of Southern Africa are in the habit of using the bark of the acacia just as in England we use the bark of the oak, and find that it produces a similar effect upon skins that are soaked in a strong solution of acacia bark in water. The native, however, does not use the bark for this purpose, neither does he practise the long and tedious process of tanning which is in use among ourselves. The acacia tree supplies for him a material which answers all the purposes of a tanpit, and does not require above a fraction of the time that is employed in ordinary tanning.

The acacia trees are constantly felled for all sorts of purposes. The hard wood is used in native architecture, in making the fence round a kraal, in making wagon poles, and in many similar modes. The root and stump are left to rot in the ground, and, thanks to the peculiar climate and the attacks of insects, they soon rot away, and can be crumbled with the fingers into a reddish yellow powder. This powder is highly astringent, and is used by the Kaffirs for dressing their furs, and is applied by assiduous rubbing in with the hand. Afterward, a little grease is added, but not much, and this is also rubbed in very carefully with the hand.

A large kaross is always worn with the furry side inward, and there is a mode of putting it on which is considered highly fashionable. If the robe is composed of several skins,—say, for example, those of the jackal or leopard,—the heads are placed in a row along the upper margin. When the Kaffir indues his kaross, he folds this edge over so as to form a kind of cape, and puts it on in such a way that the fur-clad heads fall in a row over his shoulders.

The rapidity with which a Kaffir will prepare a small skin is really surprising. One of my friends was travelling in Southern Africa, and saw a jackal cantering along, looking out for food. Presently, he came across the scent of some steaks that were being cooked, and came straight toward the wagon, thinking only of food, and heedless of danger. One of the Kaffirs in attendance on the wagon saw the animal, picked up a large stone, and awaited his coming. As he was nearing the fire, the Kaffir flung the stone with such a good aim that the animal was knocked over and stunned. The wagon started in an hour and a half from that time, and the Kaffir who killed the jackal was seen wearing the animal’s dressed skin. The skin of this creature is very much prized for robes and similar purposes, as it is thick and soft, and the rich black mottlings along the back give to the robe a very handsome appearance.

I have before me a beautiful example of a kaross or cloak, made from the skins of the meerkat, one of the South African ichneumons. It is a pretty creature, the coat being soft and full, and the general color a reddish tawny, variegated in some specimens by dark mottlings along the back, and fading off into gray along the flanks. The kaross consists of thirty-six skins, which are sewed together as neatly as any furrier could sew them. The meerkat, being very tenacious of life, does not succumb easily, and accordingly there is scarcely a skin which has not been pierced in one or more places by the spear, in some instances leaving holes through which a man’s finger could easily be passed. In one skin there are five holes, two of them of considerable size. Yet, when the kaross is viewed upon the hairy side, not a sign of a hole is visible. With singular skill, the Kaffir fur-dresser has “let in” circular pieces of skin cut from another animal, and done it so well that no one would suspect that there had been any injury to the skin. The care taken in choosing the color is very remarkable, because the fur of the meerkat is extremely variable in color, and it must have been necessary to compare a considerable number of skins, in order to find one that was of exactly the right shade.

The mantle in question is wonderfully light, so light, indeed, that no one would think it capable of imparting much warmth until he has tried it. I always use it in journeys in cold weather, finding that it can be packed in much less space than an ordinary railway rug, that it is lighter to carry, and is warmer and more comfortable.

Although every Kaffir has some knowledge of skin-dressing and tailoring, there are some who greatly surpass their companions, and are popularly known as “kaross makers.” It is easy to tell at a glance whether a garment is the work of an ordinary Kaffir, or of a regular kaross maker. The kaross which has been noticed affords a good example of both styles, which can be distinguished as easily by the touch as by the sight.

When a kaross maker sets to work, he takes the two pieces of the fur which he has to join, and places them together with the hairy side inward, and the edges exactly matching each other. He then repeatedly[30] passes his long needle between the two pieces, so as to press the hair downward, and prevent it from being caught in the thread. He then bores a few holes in a line with each other, and passes the sinew fibre through them, casting a single hitch over each hole, but leaving the thread loose. When he has made two or three such holes, and passed the thread through them, he draws them tight in regular succession, so that he produces a sort of lock-stitch, and his work will not become loose, even though it may be cut repeatedly. Finally, he rubs down the seam, and, when properly done, the two edges lie as flat as if they were one single piece of skin.

In the kaross before mentioned, the original maker was not one of the professed tailors, but thought that he could do all the plain sewing himself. Accordingly, the seams which connect the various skills are rather rudely done, being merely sewed over and over, and are in consequence raised above the level of the skins. But the various patches that were required in order to complete the garment in its integrity needed much more careful work, and this portion of the work has been therefore intrusted to one of the professed kaross makers. The difference of the seams is at once apparent, those made by the unskilled workman being raised, harsh, and stiff; while those made by the professional are quite flat, and look exactly like the well-known lock-stitch of our sewing machines.

A singularly handsome specimen of a kaross is now before me. It is made of the skins of the gray jackal, and, although not so attractive to European eyes as if it had been made from the skin of the black-backed jackal, is, in a Kaffir’s estimation, a far more valuable article, inasmuch as the gray species is much rarer than the black-backed.

The man who designed this kaross may fairly be entitled to the name of artist. It is five feet three inches in depth, and very nearly six feet in width, and therefore a considerable number of skins have been used in making it. But the skins have not merely been squared and then sewed together, the manufacturer having in his mind a very bold design. Most persons are aware, that in the majority of animals, the jackal included, the skin is darkest along the back, a very dark stripe runs along the spine, and that the fur fades into whitish gray upon the flanks and under the belly. The kaross maker has started with the idea of forming the cloak on the same principle, and making it look as if it were composed of one large skin. Accordingly, he has selected the darkest skins for the centre of the kaross, and arranged them so that they fade away into gray at the edges. This is done, not by merely putting the darker skins in the middle, and the lighter toward the edges, but by cutting the skins into oblong pieces of nearly the same size, and sewing them together so neatly that the lines of junction are quite invisible. All the heads are set in a row along the upper edges, and, being worked very flat, can be turned over, and form a kind of cape, as has already been mentioned. The lower edge of the kaross has a very handsome appearance, the gray color of the fur rapidly deepening into black, which makes a broad stripe some four inches in depth. This is obtained by taking the skin of the paws, which are very black, and sewing them to the cape of the mantle.

Of course, a Kaffir has no knowledge of gloves, but there are seasons when he really wants some covering for his hands. A creature of the sun, he cannot endure cold; and in weather when the white men are walking in their lightest clothing and exulting in the unaccustomed coolness, the Kaffir is wrapped in his thickest kaross, cowering over the fire, and absolutely paralyzed, both bodily and mentally, with the cold. He therefore makes certain additions to his kaross, and so forms a kind of shelter for the hands. About two feet from the top of the kaross, and on the outer edges, are a pair of small wings or projections, about a foot in length, and eight inches in width. When the Kaffir puts on the kaross, he doubles the upper part to form the cape, turns the furry side within, grasps one of these winglets with each hand, and then wraps it round his shoulders. The hands are thus protected from the cold, and the upper part of the body is completely covered. The kaross descends as far as the knees in front, and is about a foot longer at the sides and at the back. The whole edge of the kaross is bound on the inside with a narrow band of thin, but very strong membrane, and is thus rendered less liable to be torn. The membrane is obtained as follows. A skin of some animal, usually one of the antelopes, is rolled up and buried in the ground until a certain amount of putrefaction takes place. It is then removed, and the Kaffir splits it by introducing his knife, and then, with a quick jerk, strips off the membranous skin. If it does not separate easily, the skin is replaced in the ground, and left for a day or two longer.

This fine specimen was brought from Southern Africa by Mr. Christie, who has had it in constant use as a railway rug and for similar purposes for some fourteen years, and it is still as serviceable as ever. I ought to mention that both this and my own kaross were made by Bechuanas, and not by Zulus, the latter tribe always using for their kaross a single hide of an ox dressed soft. The peculiar mode of manipulating a hide when dressing it is called “braying,” perhaps because it bears some resemblance to the “braying” or rubbing of a substance in a mortar, as distinguished from pounding it.[31] A handful of the hide is taken in each hand and gathered up, so as to form two or three wrinkles on the fleshy side. The wrinkles are then rubbed on each other, with a peculiar twisting movement, which is almost identical with that of the gizzard in grain-eating birds.

Of similar skins the Kaffir makes a kind of bag in which he puts his pipe, tobacco, and various other little comforts. This bag, which is popularly called a knapsack, deserves more rightly the name of haversack, as it is not carried on the back, but slung to the side. It is made of the skin of some small animal, such as a hare or a hyrax, and is formed in a very simple manner. When the Kaffir has killed the animal, he strips off the skin by making a cut, not along the belly, as is the usual fashion, but from one hind leg to the other. By dint of pushing and pulling, he contrives to strip off the skin, and of course turns it inside out in so doing, much as is the case when a taxidermist skins a snake or frog. The skin is then “brayed” in the ordinary fashion, while the furry side is inward; and when this operation is completed, the mouth, ears and eyelids are sewed up, and it is then reversed so as to bring the fur outward. Straps are attached to the two hind legs, so that the wearer can sling the bag over his shoulder. The natives put these bags to all kinds of uses, some of them being rather odd according to our ideas. It has been mentioned that the pipe, tobacco, and other little articles which a Kaffir has, are kept in the bag. If, perchance, the wearer should discover a bees’ nest, he empties his “knapsack,” turns it inside out, shakes it well in order to get rid of the scraps of tobacco and other debris of a Kaffir’s pouch, and then proceeds to attack the bees. When he has succeeded in reaching the honeycombs, he removes them from the nest, puts them into the bag, and goes off with his prize, regardless of the state in which the interior of the bag will be left.

The skill of the Kaffir in sewing fur is the more notable when we take into consideration the peculiar needle and thread which he uses. The needle is not in the least like the delicate, slender articles employed by European seamstresses. In the first place, it has no eye; and in the second, it is more like a skewer than a needle. If any of my classical readers will recall to their minds the “stylus” which the ancients used instead of a pen, he will have a very good idea of a Kaffir’s needle.

As the Kaffir likes to carry his needle about with him, he makes a sheath or case of leather. There is great variety in these cases. The simplest are merely made of strips of hide rolled round the needle, and sewed together at the edges.

The most ornamental needle that I have seen was brought to England by the late H. Jackson, Esq., who kindly placed it and the rest of his valuable collection at my disposal. This needle is represented at fig. 1, in the illustration “Kaffir needles,” page 33. It is of the ordinary shape, though much larger than most that are used; but it is upon the sheath and its ornaments that the proud owner has lavished his powers. The sheath is made of leather, but is modelled into a curious pattern, which may be easily imitated. Roll up a tube of paper, about the third of an inch in diameter. At an inch from the end, pinch it tightly between the right thumb and finger, until it is squeezed flat. Still retaining the grasp, pinch it with the left hand just below the finger and thumb of the right, and at right angles to them. Proceed in this manner until the whole of it has been pinched. Then, if we suppose that the tube is made of raw hide thoroughly wetted, that a well oiled needle is placed in it, and that the leather is worked carefully upon the needle so as to make a sheath, ornamented with flattened projections at right angles to each other, we shall see how the sheath is made.

The siring of beads by which it is hung around the neck is put together with great taste. The pale-tinted beads are white with rings of scarlet, and the others are blue with large spots of white, the whole forming a very artistic contrast with the skin of the wearer. The best point of this needle case is, however, the ornament which hangs to it just by the head of the needle. This is a piece of rhinoceros horn, cut into the shape of a buffalo head and part of the neck—very much, indeed, as if it had been intended for the handle of a seal. The skill with which the artist—for he really deserves the name—has manipulated this stubborn substance is really admirable. The sweep of the animal’s horns is hit off with a boldness of line and a freedom of execution that would scarcely be expected from a savage. That he should make an accurate representation of the animal was likely enough, considering his familiarity with the subject, but that he should be able to carve with his assagai-blade so artistic a design could hardly have been expected from him.

By the side of this needle hangs another, which I have introduced because the sheath, instead of being made of leather, is a wooden tube, closed at one end, and guarded at both ends by a thong of raw hide rolled round it.

As the Kaffirs employ needles of this description, it is evident that they cannot use the same kind of thread as ourselves, since a cotton thread would not make its way through the leather, and therefore the Kaffir has recourse to the animal kingdom for his thread as well as for his garments. The thread is made of the sinews of various animals, the best being made of the sinews taken from the neck of a giraffe. One of these bundles of thread is now before[32] me, and a curious article it is—stiff, angular, elastic, and with an invincible tendency to become entangled among the other objects of the collection. Few persons to whom it is shown for the first time will believe that it is thread, and mostly fancy that I am trying to take advantage of their ignorance.

When this strange thread is wanted for use, it is steeped in hot water until it is quite soft, and is then beaten between two smooth stones. This process causes it to separate into filaments, which can be obtained of almost any degree of strength or fineness. The sinew thus furnishes a thread of astonishing strength when compared with its diameter, surpassing even the silk grass of Guiana in that respect.

When a Kaffir wishes to sew, he prepares some of this thread, squats on the ground, takes his needle, and bores two little holes in the edges of the garment on which he is working. He then pushes the thread through the holes thus made, and makes two more holes opposite each other. He continues to draw the stitches tight as he proceeds, and thus gets on with his work at a rate which would certainly not pay a seamstress in this country, but which is very well suited to Africa, where time is not of the least value. As he works with wet sinew upon wet hide, it naturally follows that, in the process of drying, the seams become enormously strengthened, the stitches being drawn tightly by the contraction of sinew, and the contraction of the hide forcing the stitches deeply into its own substance, and almost blending them together. So, although the work is done very slowly, one of our sewing machines being equal to a hundred Kaffirs, or thereabouts, in point of speed, it is done with a degree of efficacy that no machine can ever approach. I have in my collection very many examples of Kaffir sewing, and in every instance the firmness and solidity of the workmanship are admirable. Their fur-sewing is really wonderful, for they use very close stitches, very fine thread, and join the pieces so perfectly that the set of the hairs is not disturbed, and a number of pieces will look and feel exactly as if they were one single skin.

We will begin an account of Kaffir dress with the ordinary costume of a man. Until he approaches manhood, the Kaffir does not trouble himself about so superfluous a luxury as dress. He may wear beads and ornaments, but he is not troubled with dress in our acceptation of the word. When he becomes a man, however, he assumes the peculiar apron which may be seen by reference to any of the illustrations of Kaffir men. This garment is intended to represent the tails of animals, and by Europeans is generally called by that name. Thus, instead of saying that a man has put on his dress or his apron, he is said to have put on his “tails.” It is notable, by the way, that this form of dress extends over a considerable part of Africa, and is common to both sexes, though the details are carried out in a different manner. The principal is a belt round the waist, with a number of thongs depending from it, and we find this characteristic dress as far northward as Egypt. Indeed, strings or thongs form a considerable portion, not only of a Kaffir’s dress, but of his ornaments, as will be seen presently.

The apron of the men is called “isinene,” and is conventionally supposed to be made of the tails of slain leopards, lions, or buffaloes, and to be a trophy of the wearer’s courage as well as a mark of his taste in dress. Such a costume is sometimes, though very rarely, seen; there being but few Kaffirs who have killed enough of these ferocious beasts to make the “isinene” of their tails. I have one which was presented to me by Captain Drayson, R.A., who bought it, together with many other objects, after the late Kaffir war. It is represented by fig. 1 in the illustration of “Costume” on page 33. It is made of strips of monkey skin, each about an inch and a half in width. These strips have been snipped half through on either side alternately, and then twisted so as to make furry cylinders, having the hair on the outside, and being fixed in that position until dry and tolerably stiff. There are fourteen of these strips, each being about fourteen inches long, but those in the middle exceeding the others by an inch or two.

The strips or “tails” are gathered together above, and sewed firmly to a broad belt of the same material, which is so covered with red and white beads that the leather cannot be seen. Across the belt are two rows of conical brass buttons, exactly identical with those that decorate the jacket of the modern “page.” These brass buttons seem to charm a Kaffir’s heart. He cannot have too many of them, and it is his delight and pride to keep them burnished to the highest amount of polish which brass will take. I have various specimens of dress or ornament formerly belonging to Kaffirs of both sexes, and, in almost every instance where the article has been very carefully made, at least one brass button is attached to it.


(See pages 36, 37, 46, 52.)

(See p. 31.)

(See pages 32, 51.)

(See pages 32, 52.)


As long as the Kaffir stands or sits, the “isinene” hangs rather gracefully, and reminds the spectator of the sporran or skin pouch, which forms part of the Highlander’s dress. But when he runs, especially when he is rushing at full speed, the tails fly about in all directions, and have a most ludicrous effect, almost as if a bundle of living eels or snakes had been tied round the man’s waist. If a Kaffir should be too lazy to take the trouble of making so elaborate a set of “tails,” he merely cuts his “isinene” out of a piece of skin. An example of this kind of apron is seen in the illustration, “Dolls,” 33d page, which represents a pair of figures, a Kaffir and his wife, made by the natives out of leather. Here the male figure, on the right, is shown as wearing the isinene, and having besides a short kaross, or cloak, over his shoulders. These figures are in my own collection, and will be more particularly described when we come to the dress of Kaffir females.

Most of the men wear a similar duplicate of this apron, which falls behind, and corresponds with the isinene; this second apron is called the “umucha,” and is mostly made of one piece of skin. Its use is not, however, universal, and indeed, when in his own kraal or village, the Kaffir does not trouble himself about either isinene or umucha, and considers himself quite sufficiently clothed with a necklace and a snuff box.

An illustration on page 117, gives a good idea of the appearance presented by a Kaffir of rank in his ordinary dress. It is a portrait of Goza, the well-known Zulu chief, whose name came prominently forward during the visit of Prince Albert to the Cape. He is one of the most powerful chiefs of the Zulu tribe, and can at any moment summon into the field his five or six thousand trained and armed warriors. Yet in ordinary life he is not to be distinguished from the meanest of his subjects by any distinction of dress. An experienced eye would, however, detect his rank at a single glance, even though he were not even clad in his “tails.” He is fat, and none but chiefs are fat in Kaffirland. In fact, none but chiefs have the opportunity, because the inferior men are forced to such constantly active employment, and live on such irregular nourishment, that they have no opportunity of accumulating fat.

But a chief has nothing whatever to do, except to give his orders, and if those orders are within human capacity they will be executed. Tchaka once ordered his warriors to catch a lion with their unarmed hands, and they did it, losing, of course, many of their number in the exploit. The chief can eat beef and porridge all day long if he likes, and he mostly does like. Also, he can drink as much beer as he chooses, and always has a large vessel at hand full of that beverage. Panda, the king of the Zulu tribes, was notable for being so fat that he could hardly waddle; but, as the reader will soon be presented with a portrait of this doubly great monarch, nothing more need be said about him.

As to Goza, he is a wealthy man, possessing vast herds of cattle, besides a great number of wives, who, as far as can be judged by their portraits, are not beautiful according to European ideas of beauty, but are each representatives of a considerable number of cows. He wields undisputed sway over many thousands of subjects, and takes tribute from them. Yet he dresses on ordinary occasions like one of his own subjects, and his house is just one of the ordinary huts of which a village is composed. When he wishes to appear officially, he alters his style of dress, and makes really a splendid appearance in all the pomp of barbaric magnificence. Also, when he mixes with civilization, he likes to be civilized in dress, and makes his appearance dressed as an Englishman, in a silk hat, a scarlet coat, and jackboots, and attended in his rides by an aide-de-camp, dressed in a white-plumed cocked hat, and nothing else.

A portrait of Goza in his full war-dress is given in the chapter that treats of Kaffir warfare.




As to the ornaments which a Kaffir man wears, they may be summed up in three words—beads, buttons, and strings, all three being often employed in the manufacture of one ornament. All the beads come from Europe, and there is as much fashion in them as in jewelry among civilized nations. The Kaffirs will have nothing to do with beads that do not form a good contrast with the dark skin of the wearer, so that beads which would be thought valuable, even in England, would be utterly contemned by the poorest Kaffir. Dark blue, for example, are extremely unfashionable, while light azure blue are in great favor. Those beads which contain white and red are the most valued; and if it were possible to make beads which would have the dazzling whiteness of snow, or the fiery hue of the scarlet verbena, almost any price might be obtained for them in Kaffirland.

The capriciousness of fashion is quite as great among the Kaffirs as among Europeans, and the bead trade is, therefore, very precarious, beads which would have been purchased at a very high price one year being scarcely worth their freight in the next. Still, there is one rule which may always guide those who take beads as a medium of barter among savages. The beads should always contrast boldly with the color of the skin. Now, the average color of a Kaffir is a very dark chocolate; and if the intended trader among these tribes wishes to make a successful speculation, he cannot do better than have a lay figure painted of a Kaffir’s color, and try the effect of the beads upon the image. Beads cannot be too brilliant for a savage, and almost any small articles which will take a high polish and flash well in the sunshine will find a market.

Having procured his beads, either by exchange of goods or by labor, the Kaffir proceeds to adorn himself with them. In a photograph before me, representing a group of young warriors belonging to Goza’s army, three of the men have round their necks strings of beads which must weigh several pounds, while another has a broad belt of beads passing over the shoulder just like the sash of a light infantry officer. The ordinary mode of wearing them is in strings round the neck, but a Kaffir of ingenuity devises various other fashions. If he has some very large and very white beads, he will tie them round his forehead, just over his eyebrows, allowing some of them to dangle over his nose, and others on either side of the eyes. In “Kaffir ornaments” on page 33, fig. 1, is shown a sash somewhat similar to that which has just been mentioned, though it is not made wholly of beads. Its groundwork is a vast number of small strings laid side by side, and bound at intervals by bands of different colored beads, those toward the ends being white, and the others scarlet, pink, or green. Its length is[37] about eight feet. A small portion is given on an enlarged scale, to show the mode of structure. The other articles belong to female costume, and will be described presently.

The group of ornaments illustrated upon page 33 is very interesting, and is taken from specimens kindly lent me by the late H. Jackson, Esq. The round article with dark centre (fig. 3) is the first which we will notice. In form it resembles a hollow cone, or rather a Malay’s hat, and is made of leather, ingeniously moulded and sewed while wet, and then kept in its shape until dry. The whole of the interior is so thickly covered with beads that the leather is quite concealed. The beads in the centre are red, and the others are white. This ornament is worn on the breast, and to all appearance must be a very awkward article of decoration. If the outside had been covered with beads, it is easy to understand that it would have rested very comfortably on the breast with its bead-covered apex projecting like a huge sugar-loaf button. But, as the peak has to rest on the breast, the ornament must sway about in a most uncomfortable manner.

The ornament at the bottom of the illustration is a semi-necklace, much in request among the Kaffirs. A string is fastened to each upper corner and then tied behind the neck, so that none of the beads are wasted upon a back view of the person. The groundwork of this semi-necklace is white, and the marks upon it are differently colored. Some of them are red in the interior and edged with yellow, while in others these colors are reversed. A narrow line of scarlet beads runs along the lower edge. The necklace is formed of a sort of network, of which the meshes are beads, so that as it is moved by the action of the body, the light shines through the interstices, and has a very pretty effect.

A bracelet, also made of beads, is shown in the same illustration at fig. 2. The beads are strung on threads, and then twisted together so as to form a loose rope, very similar in construction to the rope ring used so much by sailors, and known technically as a “grummet.” The strings of beads are variously colored, and are arranged with considerable taste, so that when they are twisted together the general effect is very good.

There is a more common kind of beads which are called “chalk-white.” Their only value is that they contrast well with the dark skin of the wearer. Still, there are many young men who would be only too glad to have even so simple a set of beads, for beads are money in Kaffirland, and are not to be obtained without labor. However, ornament of some kind the young men will have, and if they cannot obtain beads they will wear some other ornament as a succedaneum for them.

One of these very simple necklaces is in my collection. It consists merely of nuts, which the wearer could have for the picking. A hole is bored through each nut, just above the smaller end, so that they fit closely together, and stand boldly out, without showing the string on which they are threaded. So closely do they lie that, although the necklace is only just large enough to be passed over the head, it contains more than a hundred nuts. The two necklaces which are represented at the foot of the 39th page, have been selected because they show how the native artist has first made a necklace of beads and teeth, and has then imitated it in metal. No. 1 represents a bracelet that is entirely made of beads and teeth. First, the maker has prepared six or seven very fine leathern thongs, and has strung upon them black glass beads of rather a small size. When he has formed rows of about an inch and a half in length, he has placed in each string a single bead of a much larger size, and being white in color, spotted with bright blue. Another inch and a half of black beads follow, and then come the teeth. These are the canine teeth of the leopard and other felidæ, and are arranged in groups varying from three to five in number. A tolerably large hole is bored through the base of each, and all the strings are passed through them. The maker then goes on with the black beads, then with the white, then with the teeth, and so on, until his materials are exhausted, and the necklace finished.

The necklace No. 2 is of a far more ambitious character, and, whether or not it has been made by the same artificer, it shows that the same principle has been carried out. The former ornament belonged to a man who had been skilful as a hunter, and who wore the teeth of the slaughtered leopards as trophies of his valor and success. He would also wear the skins, and lose no opportunity of showing what he had done. But we will suppose that a Kaffir, who has some notion of working in metal, saw the bracelet, and that he was fired with a desire to possess one of a similar character. Leopards’ teeth he could not, of course, possess without killing the animal for himself, because no one who has achieved such a feat would sell to another the trophies of his own prowess. So he has tried to imitate the coveted ornament as well as he could; and though he might not possess either the skill or the courage of the hunter, he could, at all events, make a necklace which would resemble in shape that of his companion, be very much more showy, and possess a considerable intrinsic value.

So he set up his forge, and, in a manner which will be described in a future page, made his own bronze, brass, or bell-metal, and cast a number of little cylinders. These he beat into shape with his primitive[38] hammer, and formed them into very tolerable imitations of leopards’ teeth. Being now furnished with the material for his necklace, he began to put it together. First, he strung rows of chalk-white beads, and then a brass tooth. Next to the tooth comes a large transparent glass bead, of ruby-red, decorated with white spots. Then comes a tooth, then more beads, and so on, until the ornament has been completed. In order to give the necklace an air of reality, he cut a piece of bone so as to look like a very large tooth, and strung it in the centre of the ornament, so as to fall on his chest.

This is really a handsome piece of workmanship, and when in use must have a very excellent effect. The colors are selected with remarkable taste, as nothing can look better on a dark skin than white and ruby. Moreover, the metal teeth are burnished so as to glisten brilliantly in the sun, and will dazzle the eye at the distance of some feet. Both these necklaces are drawn from specimens in the collection of Colonel Lane Fox.

It is a remarkable fact that good taste in color, if not in material, seems to be inherent in the race, despite the very small amount of clothes which either sex wears. When they become partially civilized, especially if they owe any allegiance to missionaries, they assume some portion of ordinary European costume. The men, whose wardrobe is generally limited to a shirt and trousers, have little scope for taste in dress; but the women always contrive to develop this faculty. Whether in the gay colors of the gowns which they wear, or whether in the more sober hue of the handkerchief which they invariably tie round their heads, they always manage to hit upon a combination of colors which harmonize with their complexions.

Perhaps it is fortunate that such should be the case, for the assumption of European costume is, artistically speaking, anything but an improvement in the appearance of a Kaffir, or, indeed, of any wearer of a dark skin; and it is a curious fact, that the better the clothes, the worse do they look. A young Kaffir, wearing nothing but his few tufts of fur, moves with a free and upright gait, and looks like one of nature’s noblemen. But the moment that he puts on the costume adopted in civilized Europe, he loses every vestige of dignity, and even his very gait is altered for the worse.

The metropolitan reader can easily witness such a metamorphosis by visiting the Hammâm, or any similar establishment, where dark-skinned attendants are employed. While engaged in their ordinary vocation, clad with nothing but a cloth round their loins, they look just like ancient statues endued with life, and it is impossible to avoid admiring the graceful dignity of their gestures, as they move silently about the room. But when any of them leave the room, and put on the ordinary dress, the change is complete and disappointing, and it is hardly possible to believe the identity of such apparently different individuals. In the time long passed away, when Scotland was still contesting with England, the statesmen of the latter country showed no small knowledge of human nature when they forbade the use of the Highland dress, and forced the Highlanders to abandon the picturesque costume which seems to harmonize so well with the wild hills of their native land. A Highlander in his kilt and tartan was not the same man when in the costume of the Lowlander, and it was impossible for him to feel the same pride in himself as when he wore the garb of the mountaineer and the colors of his clan.

Many of the young men who cannot afford beads make bracelets, necklaces, armlets, and anklets from the skins of animals. After cutting the skin into strips, they twist the strips spirally, so as to convert them into hollow ropes, having all the hair on the outside. When made of prettily colored skins, these curious ornaments have a very good, though barbaric effect. (See page 49.) By cutting the strips spirally, almost any length can be obtained; and the consequence is, that the young men sometimes appear with their bodies, legs, and arms covered with these furry ropes.

Another kind of ornament of which the Kaffir is very fond is the tufted tail of an ox. A man of consequence will sometimes wear a considerable number of these tails. Some he will form into an apron, and others will be disposed about his person in the quaintest possible style. He will tie one under each knee, so as to bring it on the shin bone. Others he will fix to leathern loops, and hang them loosely on his arms, like the curious bracelet worn by Jung Bahadoor when in England. Some he will divide into a multitude of strips, and sew them together so as to make fringed belts, which he will tie round his waist, or with which he will encircle the upper arms. Others, again, will be attached to his ankles, and a man thus decorated is contemplated enviously by those not so fortunate.


(See page 52.)

(See page 51.)

(See page 46.)

(See page 37.)


The very fact of possessing such ornaments shows that the wearer must be a rich man, and have slaughtered his own cattle. It is hardly possible to obtain cow tails in any other method; for the owner of a slain cow is sure to keep the tail for himself, and will not give so valuable an ornament to another. For the same reason, when the cow has been eaten up, its owner fastens the skull on the outside of his hut. Every one who passes within sight can then see that a rich man lives in that dwelling. Even when the tails are sold to Europeans, an absurdly high price is asked for them. One of these arm-tufts is now before me. The skin has been stripped from the tail, leaving a thong of eighteen inches in length above the tuft of hair. This thong has then been cut into three strips of half an inch in width, and the strips have been rolled up spirally, as already described. As the slit is carried to the very end of the tail, the tuft is spread open, and therefore looks twice as large as would have been the case had it been left untouched. Each of these tufts representing a cow, it is evident that the possession of them shows that the owner must be wealthy enough, not only to possess cows, but to have so many that he could afford to slaughter them.

An illustration on page 43 represents a Kaffir who is both young and rich, and who has put on his dress of ceremony for the purpose of paying a visit. Under such circumstances, a Kaffir will exercise the greatest care in selecting ornaments, and occupy hours in putting them on to the best advantage. Among the furs used by the Kaffir for this purpose is that of the Angora goat, its long soft hair working up admirably into fringes and similar ornaments. Feathers of different birds are worked into the head dress, and the rarer the bird and the more brilliant the color the better is the wearer pleased. One decoration which is sometimes worn on the head is a globular tuft, several inches in diameter, formed from the feathers of a species of roller. The lovely plumage of the bird, with its changeful hues of green and blue, is exactly adapted for the purpose: and in some cases two of these tufts will be worn, one on the forehead and the other on the back of the head. Eagles’ feathers are much used among the Kaffirs, as, in spite of their comparatively plain coloring, their firm and graceful shape enables the wearer to form them into very elegant head dresses. Ostrich feathers are also used for the purpose, as are the richly colored plumes of the lory; but the great ambition of a Kaffir beau is to procure some feathers of the peacock, of which he is amazingly vain.

On such occasions the Kaffir will wear much more dress than usual; and, in addition to the quantity of beads which he contrives to dispose upon his person, he ties so many tufts and tails round his waist that he may almost be said to wear a kilt. He will carry his shield and bundle of spears with him, but will not take the latter weapons into the host’s house, either exchanging them for imitative spears of wood, or taking a simple knobbed stick. Some sort of a weapon he must have in his hand, or he would feel himself quite out of his element.

When the “boy” has at last obtained the chief’s permission to enter the honored class of “men,” he prepares himself with much ceremony for the change of costume which indicates his rank. The change does not consist so much in addition as in subtraction, and is confined to the head. All unmarried men wear the whole of their hair, and sometimes indulge their vanity in dressing it in various modes; such as drawing it out to its fullest extent, and stiffening it with grease and shining powders, so that it looks something like the wigs which bishops used to wear, but which have been judiciously abandoned. If particular pains are taken with the hair, and it happens to be rather longer than usual, the effect is very remarkable. I have a photographic portrait of a young Zulu warrior, whose hair is so bushy and frizzled that it might be taken for that of a Figian; and as in his endeavors to preserve himself in a perfectly motionless attitude, he has clenched his teeth tightly and opened his eyes very wide, he looks exactly as if all his hair were standing on end with astonishment.

Proud, however, as he may be, as a “boy,” of his hair, he is still prouder when he has the permission of his chief to cut it off, and at once repairs to a friend who will act as hairdresser. The friend in question takes his best assagai, puts a fine edge upon it, furnishes himself with a supply of gum, sinews, charcoal powder, and oil, and addresses himself to his task. His first care is to make an oval ring of the sinews, about half an inch in thickness, and then to fit it on the head. The hair is then firmly woven into it, and fixed with the gum and charcoal, until the hair and ring seem as if they were one substance. Oil or grease is next liberally applied, until the circlet shines like a patent leather boot, and the ring is then complete. The officiating friend next takes his assagai, and shaves the whole of the head, outside and inside the ring, so as to leave it the sole decoration of his bald head.

The ring, or “issikoko,” is useful for several purposes. It answers admirably to hold feathers firmly, when the courtier decorates his head for ceremony, or the soldier for war. It serves also more peaceful uses, being the usual place where the snuff spoon is worn. This mode of dressing the hair has its inconvenience, for the ring continually needs to be repaired and kept in order. As to the “issikoko” itself, it is too hard to be easily damaged; but as the hair grows it is raised above the head, and, when neglected for some time, will rise to a height of two inches or so. Moreover, the shaven parts of the head soon regain their covering, and need again to be submitted to the primitive razor. No man would venture to appear before his chief with the head unshaven, or with the ring standing above it; for if he did so, his life would probably answer for his want of respect.

The reverence with which a Kaffir regards the “issikoko” is equal to that which an Oriental entertains for his beard. Mr. Moffatt mentions a curious illustration of this fact.[42] A warrior of rank, an “Induna,” or petty chief, was brought before the king, the dreaded Moselekate, charged with an offence the punishment of which was death. He was conducted to the king, deprived of his spear and shield. “He bowed his fine elastic figure, and kneeled before the judge. The case was investigated silently, which gave solemnity to the scene. Not a whisper was heard among the listening audience, and the voices of the council were only audible to each other and to the nearest spectators. The prisoner, though on his knees, had something dignified and noble in his mien. Not a muscle of his countenance moved, but a bright black eye indicated a feeling of intense interest, which the swerving balance between life and death only could produce. The case required little investigation; the charges were clearly substantiated, and the culprit pleaded guilty. But, alas! he knew that it was at a bar where none ever heard the heart reviving sound of pardon, even for offences small compared with his. A pause ensued, during which the silence of death pervaded the assembly.

“At length the monarch spoke, and, addressing the prisoner, said: ‘You are a dead man; but I shall do to-day what I never did before. I spare your life, for the sake of my friend and father,’ pointing to where I stood. ‘I know that his heart weeps at the shedding of blood; for his sake I spare your life. He has travelled from a far country to see me, and he has made my heart white; but he tells me that to take away life is an awful thing, and never can be undone again. He has pleaded with me not to go to war, nor to destroy life. I wish him, when he returns to his own home again, to return with a heart as white as he has made mine. I spare you for his sake; for I love him and he has saved the lives of my people. But,’ continued the king, ‘you must be degraded for life; you must no more associate with the nobles of the land, nor enter the towns of the princes of the people, nor ever again mingle in the dance of the mighty. Go to the poor of the field, and let your companions be the inhabitants of the desert.’

“The sentence passed, the pardoned man was expected to bow in grateful adoration to him whom he was wont to look upon and exalt in songs applicable only to One, to whom belongs universal sway and the destinies of man. But no! Holding his hands clasped on his bosom, he replied: ‘O king, afflict not my heart! I have incited thy displeasure: let me be slain like the warrior. I cannot live with the poor.’ And, raising his hand to the ring he wore on his brow, he continued: ‘How can I live among the dogs of the king, and disgrace these badges of honor which I won among the spears and shields of the mighty? No; I cannot live! Let me die, O Pezoolu!’ His request was granted, and his hands tied erect over his head. Now my exertions to save his life were vain. He disdained the boon on the conditions offered, preferring to die with the honors he had won at the point of the spear—honors which even the act which condemned him did not tarnish—to exile and poverty among the children of the desert. He was led forth, a man walking on each side. My eye followed him until he reached the top of a high precipice, over which he was precipitated into the deep part of the river beneath, where the crocodiles, accustomed to such meals, were yawning to devour him ere he could reach the bottom.”

The word “issikoko,” by which the Kaffir denominates the head-ring, is scarcely to be pronounced, not by European lips, but by European palates; for each letter k is preceded, or rather accompanied, by a curious clucking sound, produced by the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth. There are three of these “clicks,” as they are called, and they will be more particularly described when we come to the subject of Kaffir language.

Under nearly all circumstances a Kaffir presents a singularly picturesque figure—except, perhaps, when squatting on the ground with his knees up to his chin—and nothing can be more grateful to an artistic eye than the aspect of a number of these splendid savages in the full panoply of all their barbaric magnificence. Their proud and noble port, their dusky bodies set off with beads and other brilliant ornaments, and the uncommon grace and agility that they display when going through the fierce mimicry of a fight which constitutes their war dances, are a delight to the eye of an artist. Unfortunately, his nose is affected in a different manner. The Kaffirs of all ages and both sexes will persist in copiously anointing themselves with grease. Almost any sort of grease would soon become rancid in that country; but, as the Kaffirs are not at all particular about the sort of grease which they use, provided that it is grease, they exhale a very powerful and very disagreeable odor. Kaffirs are charming savages, but it is always as well to keep to the windward of them, at all events until the nostrils have become accustomed to their odor. This peculiar scent is as adhesive as it is powerful, and, even after a Kaffir has laid aside his dress, any article of it will be nearly as strongly scented as the owner. Some time ago, while I was looking over a very fine collection of savage implements and dress, some articles of apparel were exhibited labelled with tickets that could not possibly have belonged to them. The owner said that he suspected them to be African, and asked my opinion, which was unhesitatingly given, the odor having betrayed their real country as soon as they were brought within range of scent.


(See page 41.)

(See page 53.)


A few years ago, I assisted in opening a series of boxes and barrels full of objects from Kaffirland. We took the precaution of opening the cases in the garden, and, even in the open air, the task of emptying them was almost too much for our unaccustomed senses. All the objects were genuine specimens, not merely made for sale, as is so often the case, but purchased from the wearers, and carefully put away. The owner of the collection was rather humorous on the subject, congratulating us on our preparation for a visit to Kaffirland, and telling us that, if either of us wished to form a good idea of the atmosphere which prevailed in a Kaffir hut with plenty of company, all we had to do was to get into the empty cask, sit at the bottom of it, and put the lid on. Several of the articles of clothing were transferred to my collection, but for some time they could not be introduced into the room. Even after repeated washings, and hanging out in the garden, and drenching with deodorizing fluid, they retained so much of their peculiar scent that they were subjected to another course, which proved more successful,—namely, a thorough washing, then drying, then exposure to a strong heat, and then drying in the open air.

This extremely powerful odor is a considerable drawback to an European hunter when accompanied by Kaffir assistants. They are invaluable as trackers; their eyes seem to possess telescopic powers; their ears are open to sounds which their white companion is quite incapable of perceiving, and their olfactory nerves are sensitive to any odor except that which themselves so powerfully exhale. But the wild animals are even more sensitive to odors than their dusky pursuers, and it is popularly said that an elephant to leeward can smell a Kaffir at the distance of a mile. All are alike in this respect, the king and his meanest subject being imbrued with the same unctuous substance; and the only difference is, that the king can afford more grease, and is therefore likely to be more odoriferous, than his subject.

Yet the Kaffir is by no means an uncleanly person, and in many points is so particularly clean that he looks down with contempt upon an European as an ill-bred man. The very liberal anointing of the person with grease is a custom which would be simply abominable in our climate, and with our mode of dress, but which is almost a necessity in a climate like that of Southern Africa, where the natives expose nearly the whole of their bodies to the burning sunbeams. Even in the more northern parts of Africa the custom prevails, and Englishmen who have resided there for a series of years have found their health much improved by following the example of the natives. In England, for example, nothing could be more absurd than to complete the morning’s toilet by putting on the head a large lump of butter, but in Abyssinia no native of fashion thinks himself fully dressed until he has thus put the finishing touch to his costume. Setting aside the different effects of the sun upon a black skin and a white one, as long as European residents in Southern Africa are able to wear their cool and light garments, so long can they dispense with grease. But, if they were suddenly deprived of their linen or cotton garments, and obliged to clothe themselves after the fashion of the Kaffirs, it is likely that, before many weeks had elapsed, they would be only too glad to resort to a custom which has been taught to the natives by the experience of centuries. Had not the practice of greasing the body been productive of good, their strong common sense would long ago have induced the Kaffirs to dispense with it.

In this, as in all other matters, we must not judge others by supposing them to be under similar conditions with ourselves. Our only hope of arriving at a true and unbiassed judgment is by mentally placing ourselves in the same conditions as those of whom we are treating, and forming our conclusions accordingly. The knowledge of this simple principle is the key to the singular success enjoyed by some schoolmasters, while others, who may far surpass them in mere scholarship, have failed to earn for themselves either the respect or the love of their pupils.

Men, as well as women, generally possess cloaks made of the skins of animals, and called karosses. Almost any animal will serve for the purpose of the kaross maker, who has a method of rendering perfectly supple the most stiff and stubborn of hides. The process of preparing the hide is very simple. The skin is fastened to the ground by a vast number of pegs around its edges, so as to prevent it from shrinking unequally, the hairy side being next to the ground. A leopard skin thus pegged to the ground may be seen by reference to the illustration of a Kaffir hut, on page 155. The artist, however, has committed a slight error in the sketch, having drawn the skin as if the hairy side were upward. The Kaffir always pegs a skin with the hairy side downward, partly because the still wet hide would adhere to the ground, and partly because he wishes to be able to manipulate the skin before it is dry. This plan of pegging down the skin is spread over the whole world; and, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, America, or Australia, the first process of hide dressing is almost exactly the same. The subsequent processes vary greatly in different quarters of the globe, and even in different parts of the same country, as we shall see in subsequent pages.

The frontier Kaffirs, and indeed all those who can have communication with Europeans, have learned the value of blankets,[46] and will mostly wear a good blanket in preference to the best kaross. But to the older warriors, or in those places to which European traders do not penetrate, the skin kaross still retains its value. The ox is the animal that most generally supplies the kaross maker with skin, because it is so large that the native need not take much trouble in sewing. Still, even the smaller animals are in great request for the purpose, and the karosses made from them are, to European eyes, far handsomer than those made from single skins. Of course, the most valued by the natives are those which are made from the skins of the predaceous animals, a kaross made of lion-skin being scarcely ever seen except on the person of sable royalty. The leopard skin is highly valued, and the fortunate and valiant slayer of several leopards is sure to make their skins into a kaross and their tails into an apron, both garments being too precious to be worn except on occasions of ceremony.

As to the various adornments of feathers, strange head dresses, and other decorations with which the Kaffir soldier loves to bedeck himself, we shall find them described in the chapter relating to Kaffir warfare. There is, however, one class of ornaments that must be briefly mentioned; namely, the rings of different material which the Kaffirs place on their wrists, arms, and ankles. These are sometimes made of ivory, often of metal, sometimes of hide, sometimes of beads, and sometimes of grass. This last mentioned bracelet is perhaps the simplest of them all.

Men who have been fortunate enough to kill an elephant, and rich enough to be able to use part of the tusks for their own purposes, generally cut off a foot or so from the base of each tusk for the purpose of making armlets, at once trophies of their valor and proofs of their wealth. The reader is perhaps aware that the tusk of an elephant, though hard and solid at the point, is soft at the base, and has only a mere shell of hard ivory, the interior being filled with the soft vascular substance by which the tusk is continually lengthened and enlarged. Indeed, the true ivory is only found in that portion of the tusk which projects from the head; the remainder, which is deeply imbedded in the skull, being made of soft substance inclosed in a shell of ivory.

It is easy enough, therefore, for the Kaffir hunter to cut off a portion of the base of the tusk, and to remove the soft vascular substance which fills it, leaving a tube of ivory, very thin and irregular at the extreme base, and becoming thicker toward the point. His next business is, to cut this tube into several pieces, so as to make rings of ivory, some two or three inches in width, and differing much in the thickness of material. Those which are made from the base of the tusk, and which have therefore a large diameter and no great thickness, are carefully polished, and placed on the arm above the elbow, while those of smaller diameter and thicker substance are merely slipped over the hand and worn as bracelets. There is now before me a photographic portrait of a son of the celebrated chief Macomo, who is wearing two of these ivory rings, one on the left arm and the other on the wrist. A necklace, composed of leopard’s teeth and claws, aids in attesting his skill as a hunter, and for the rest of his apparel the less said the better.

A pair of these armlets is shown in the illustration on page 39. They are sketched from specimens in the collection of Colonel Lane Fox. The first of them is very simple. It consists merely of a piece, some two inches in width, cut from the base of an elephant’s tusk, and moderately polished. There is no attempt at ornament about it.

The second specimen is an example of much more elaborate construction. It is cut from the more solid portion of the tusk, and weighs very much more than its companion armlet. Instead of being of uniform thickness throughout, it is shaped something like a quoit, or rather like a pair of quoits, with their flat sides placed together. The hole through which the arm passes is nicely rounded, and very smoothly polished, the latter circumstance being probably due to the friction of the wearer’s arm. It is ornamented by a double row of holes made around the aperture. The ivory is polished by means of a wet cord held at both ends, and drawn briskly backward and forward.

If the reader will refer to page 33, he will see that by the side of the conical breast ornament which has already been described there is a bracelet of beads. This is made of several strings of beads, white predominating, and red taking the next place. The bead strings are first laid side by side, and then twisted spirally into a loose kind of rope, a plan which brings out their colors very effectively. Metal is sometimes used for the same purpose, but not so frequently as the materials which have been mentioned. Mr. Grout mentions a curious specimen of one of these ornaments, which was made of brass. “I have a rare antique of this kind before me, a royal armlet of early days, of the Zulu country. It is said to have been made in the time of Senzangakona, and to have descended from him to Tchaka, thence to Dingan, thence to Umpande (Panda), who gave it to one of his chief captains, who, obliged to leave Zululand by Kechwayo’s uprising, brought it with him and sold it to me. It is made of brass, weighs about two pounds, and bears a good many marks of the smith’s attempt at the curious and the clever.”

Brass and iron wire is frequently used for the manufacture of armlets, and tolerably heavy ornaments are sometimes found of[47] the latter metal. Some years ago, a curious circumstance occurred with regard to these metallic armlets. A shining metallic powder was one day discovered, and was found capable of being smelted like iron, and made into ornaments. The chiefs were so pleased with this metal, which was more glittering than iron, that they reserved it for themselves, and gave away their iron ornaments to their followers. Some little time afterward, a contagious disease spread through the country, and several chiefs died. Of course the calamity was attributed to witchcraft, as is every death or illness among the Kaffir chiefs, and the business of discovering the offender was intrusted, as usual, to the witch doctors, a strange class of men, who will be fully described in a future page. After making a number of ineffectual guesses, they came to the conclusion that the cause of the disease lay in the new-fangled metal, which had superseded the good old iron of the past. In consequence of this verdict, the unfortunate man who discovered the metal was put to death as an accessory, the chiefs resumed their iron ornaments, and the king issued an edict forbidding the use of the metal which had done so much harm.




As in the last chapter the dress and ornaments of the Kaffir men were described, the subject of this chapter will be the costume and decoration of the women.

Both in material and general shape, there is considerable resemblance between the garments of the two sexes, but those of the females have a certain character about them which cannot be misunderstood. We will begin with the dress, and then proceed to the ornaments.

As is the case with the boys, the Kaffir girls do not trouble themselves about any clothes at all during the first few years of their life, but run about without any garments except a coat of oil, a patch of paint, and perhaps a necklace, if the parents be rich enough to afford such a luxury. Even the paint is beyond the means of many parents, but the oil is a necessity, and a child of either sex is considered to be respectably dressed and to do credit to its parents when its body shines with a polish like that of patent leather.

When a girl is approaching the age when she is expected to be exchangeable for cows, she indues her first and only garment, which she retains in its primitive shape and nearly its primitive dimensions until she has found a suitor who can pay the price required by her parents. This garment is an apron, and is made of various materials, according to the means of the wearer.

The simplest and most common type of apron is a fringe of narrow leathern strips, each strip being about the sixth of an inch wide, and five or six inches in length. A great number of these strips are fastened to a leathern thong, so that they form a kind of flexible apron, some ten or twelve inches in width. Generally, eight or ten of the strips at each side are double the length of the others. Examples of these aprons may be seen by referring to the figures of the two Kaffir girls on page 25, and, as their general make is sufficiently indicated, nothing more need be said about them. I have, however, several specimens of aprons which were worn by the daughters of wealthy men, and others were lent to me by Mr. H. Jackson. From them I have made a selection, which will illustrate well the modes of forming this dress which were in fashion some few years ago.


(See pages 53, 54, 55.)

(See pages 48, 51, 55.)


The apron represented by fig. 4 in the illustration of “dress and ornaments,” page 49, is that which is most generally used. It is made of very delicate thongs twisted together in rope fashion, and having the ends unravelled so as to make a thick fringe, and, as has already been observed, the thongs at each end are twice as long as those which occupy the centre. A broad belt of beads is placed along the upper edge of the apron, and festoons of beads hang below the belt. The colors are rather brilliant, being red, yellow, and white, and nearly all the thongs have one large white bead just above the knob, which prevents them from unravelling too much. The band by which it is suspended is also covered with beads, and it is fastened by means of a loop at one end, and a large brass button at the other. These aprons are fixed in their position by two strings, one of which passes round the waist, and the other below the hips.

Another apron is seen at the side of the illustration entitled “Dress and ornaments,” on page 49, fig. 1. This is a very elaborate affair, and is made on a totally different principle. It is wholly made of beads, the threads which hold them together being scarcely visible. In order to show the ingenious manner in which the beads are strung together, a portion of the apron is given separately. The colors of these beads are black and white, in alternate stripes, and the two ends are a trifle larger than the middle of the dress. The belt by which it is suspended is made from large round beads, arranged in rows of white, blue, and red, and the two ends are fastened to the apron by the inevitable brass button which has been so frequently mentioned.

In the same collection is a still smaller apron, intended for a younger girl. This is made after the same principle, but the beads are arranged in a bold zigzag pattern of black, scarlet, and white, relieved by the glitter of highly polished brass buttons. This apron is illustrated in fig. 4 of “Kaffir ornaments,” page 49, and a small portion of it is given on an enlarged scale, so as to show the arrangement of the beads.

When the Kaffir girl is formally betrothed she alters her dress, and, besides the small apron, indues a piece of soft hide, which reaches to her knees, or a little below them, and this she wears until she is married, when she assumes the singularly ungraceful attire of the matron. Among the Zulu tribes, she shaves nearly the whole of her head on the crown, leaving only a little tuft of hair. This is gathered together with grease, red paint, and similar substances, and stands erect from the crown of her head. The young wife is then quite in the fashion. It is evidently the feminine substitute for the “issikoko” worn by the men. So fond are the married women of this rather absurd decoration, that it formed the subject of a curious trial that took place some years ago. Noie, the youngest wife of a native named Nongue, became suddenly disfigured; and among other misfortunes, lost the little tuft of reddened hair. Poison was immediately suspected, and one of the elder wives was suspected as the culprit. She was accordingly brought up before the council, and a fair trial of five hours’ duration was accorded to her. The investigation clearly proved that she had in her possession certain poisons, and that she had administered some deleterious substance to the young wife, of whom she had become jealous. The force of evidence was so great that she confessed her crime, and stated that she intended to make Noie’s hair tuft fall off in order that the husband might be disgusted with the appearance of his new wife, and return to his old allegiance to herself. She was condemned to death, that being the punishment for all poisoners, and was led away to instant execution—a fate for which she seemed perfectly prepared, and which she met with remarkable unconcern, bidding farewell to the spectators as she passed them.

The curious respect paid by the natives to this ornament is the more remarkable, because its size is so very small. Even before shaving the head, the short, crisp hair forms a very scanty covering; and when it is all removed except this little tuft, the remainder would hardly cover the head of a child’s sixpenny doll.

Among the illustrations given on p. 39, is shown a remarkably elaborate apron belonging to a chief’s wife, drawn from a specimen in Mr. Jackson’s collection. It is made of leather, dressed and softened in the usual manner, but is furnished with a pocket and a needle. In order to show this pocket, I have brought it round to the front of the apron, though in actual wear it falls behind it. In the pocket were still a few beads and a brass button. Thread is also kept in it. On the inside of the apron is suspended one of the skewer-like needles which has been already described, so that the wearer is furnished with all appliances needful for a Kaffir seamstress.

But the chief glory of the apron is its ornament of beads, which has a very bold effect against the dark mahogany hair of the apron itself. This ornament is made in the form of a triangular flap, quite distinct from the apron itself, and fastened to it only by the lower edge and the pointed tip. The beads are arranged in a series of diamond patterns, the outer edge of each diamond being made of white beads, and the others of different colors, red predominating.

Figs. 2 and 3 in the “articles of costume,” p. 33, and next to the men’s “tails,” already described, present two good examples of the women’s aprons, both drawn from specimens in my collection. Fig. 3 is the thong apron of the women. It is made of an infinity of leather thongs, fastened together in a way rather different from that which has been mentioned. Instead of having the upper ends fixed along the belt so as to form a fringe, they are woven together into a tolerably thick bunch, some four inches in width, and wider below than above. In many cases these thongs are ornamented by little scraps of iron, brass, tin, or other metal, wrapped round them; and in some instances beads are threaded on the thongs. This apron would not belong to a woman of any high rank, for it[52] has no ornament of any kind (except a thorough saturation with highly perfumed grease), and is made of materials within the reach of every one. Any odd slips of hide thrown away in the process of Kaffir tailoring can be cut into the narrow thongs used for the purpose, and no very great skill is needed in its construction; for, though strongly made, it is the work of a rather clumsy hand.

Such is not the case with the remarkable apron shown at fig. 2 of the same illustration. This specimen is made in a rather unusual manner. The basis of the apron is a piece of the same leather which is usually employed for such purposes; but, instead of being soft and flexible, it is quite hard and stiff, and cannot be bent without danger of cracking. The beads are sewed firmly on the leather, and are arranged in parallel lines, alternately white and lilac, a few black beads being pressed into the service by the maker, apparently for want of those of a proper color. Even the belt by which it is supported is covered profusely with beads; so that, altogether, this is a remarkably good specimen of the apron belonging to a Kaffir woman of rank.

The object represented at fig. 4 is a headdress, which will be described when we come to Kaffir warfare.

A general idea of a Kaffir woman’s dress may be gained by reference to the illustration “Dolls,” page 33, representing a Kaffir and his wife. He is shown as wearing the apron and a short kaross; while she wears a larger mantle, and the thong-apron which has just been described. She is also carrying the sleeping mat; he, of course, not condescending to carry anything. Her ankles are bound with the skin ropes which have been already described; and a chain or two of beads completes her costume.

Young wives have usually another ornament on which they pride themselves. This is a piece of skin, generally that of an antelope, about eighteen inches wide, and a yard or even more in length. This is tied across the upper part of the chest, so as to allow the end to fall as low as the knees, and is often very gaily decorated. Down the centre of this skin a strip about six inches in width is deprived of hair, and on this denuded portion the wearer fastens all the beads and buttons that can be spared from other parts of her own costume. In one costume of a young Zulu wife, the bottom of this strip is covered with several rows of brass buttons, polished very highly, and glittering in the sunbeams. This article of dress, however, is disappearing among the frontier Kaffirs, who substitute European stuffs for the skin garments which they formerly wore, and which are certainly more becoming to them. The same may be said of many other articles of clothing, which, as well as the manners and customs, have undergone so complete a modification by intercourse with Europeans, that the Kaffir of the present day is scarcely to be recognized as the same being as the Kaffir of fifty years ago. As to the Hottentots, of whom we shall soon treat, they are now a different people from the race described by Le Vaillant and earlier travellers.

Married women are also fond of wearing bracelets, or rather gauntlets, of polished metal; sometimes made of a single piece, sometimes of successive rings, and sometimes of metal wound spirally from the wrist upward. Some of these ornaments are so heavy and cumbrous, that they must greatly interfere with the movements of the wrist; but in this country, as in others, personal inconvenience is little regarded when decorations are in the case.

In the illustration at the head of 39th p. are shown some bracelets of a very peculiar fashion, drawn from specimens in my own collection. They belonged to one of the wives of Goza, and were taken from her wrists by the purchaser. They are made in a very ingenious manner from the hoofs of the tiny African antelope, the Bluebok, and are formed in the following manner:—The leg of the antelope having been cut off, the skin was cut longitudinally on either side as far as the hoof, which was then separated from the bone, leaving the sharp, horny hoofs adhering to the skin. As the skin was cut so as to leave a flat thong attached to each side of the hoof, it was easy enough to form the bracelet into the shape which is seen in the illustration.

One remarkable point about these bracelets is their very small size, which shows the diminutiveness of the Kaffir hand; although the owner of these bracelets was a married woman, and therefore accustomed to tasks which would not be very light even for an English laborer. Both the bracelets are shown, and by the side of them is another made from ordinary string, such as is used for tying parcels in England. What could have induced a wife of so powerful a chief as Goza to wear so paltry an ornament I cannot conceive, except that perhaps she may have purchased it from one of the witch doctors, who has performed some ceremony over it, and sold it as a charm. Kaffirs have the most profound faith in charms, and will wear anything, no matter how commonplace it may be, if they even fancy that it may possess magic powers.

If the reader will refer to the “Kaffir ornaments” on page 33, fig. 1, he will see a circular one, made of beads. This is one of the most cherished decorations of a Kaffir girl, and it is such as cannot be afforded by any person who is not in affluent circumstances. It is made in a very ingenious manner, so as to preserve its shape, although it has to be worn round the waist[53], and consequently to be forced over the shoulders. The centre of this handsome belt is made of leather, sewed firmly together so as to form a cylindrical circle, and plentifully imbrued with grease to render it elastic. Upon this structure the beads are fastened, in regular spiral rows, so that the belt may be pulled about and altered in shape without disturbing the arrangement of the beads. The projector of this belt has contrived to arrange the beads in such a manner as to present alternate zigzags of blue and yellow, the effect of which on the dark chocolate skin would be very telling.

This belt may be seen round the waist of the young girl, whose likeness is given on page 43. The damsel in question is supposed to be arrayed for a dance, and, in such a case, she would put on every article of finery that she possessed. Her woolly hair is ornamented by a quantity of porcupine quills, the alternate black and white of which have a very good effect. Porcupine quills are, however, not very easily obtained. Hunting the porcupine is a task that belongs to the other sex, and is quite out of the way of the women.

The animal is not a pleasant antagonist; and if his burrow be stopped, and he be finally driven to bay, he gives his pursuer no small trouble, having a nasty habit of erecting all his quills, and then suddenly backing in the direction where he is least expected. A Kaffir’s naked legs have no chance against the porcupine’s quills, and when several porcupines are simultaneously attacked by a group of Kaffirs, the scene is exceedingly ludicrous, the Kaffirs leaping about as if bewitched, but, in reality, springing into the air to avoid the sudden rushes of the porcupines. Unless, therefore, the parent or admirer of a young woman should happen to present her with quills, she is forced to put up with some other ornament. One rather common decoration is by fastening into the hair a number of the long, straight thorns of the mimosa, and so defending her head from imaginary assaults as effectually as her more fortunate sister. The energy which these girls display in the dance is extraordinary, and it need be so, when some of them will wear nearly fifty pounds’ weight of beads, bracelets, anklets, belts, and other ornaments. However, the knowledge of their magnificence is sufficient to sustain them, and they will go through the most violent exertions when displaying their activity in the dance.

As to the belt which has just been mentioned, I was anxious to know whether it could be worn by our own countrywomen. So, after taking the precaution of washing it very thoroughly with a hard brush, soap, and soda, I tried it on a young lady, and was surprised to find that it passed into its place without much trouble, though its progress was, of course, impeded by dress, whereas the naked and well-oiled body of the Kaffir girl allows the belt to slip over the arms and shoulders at once.

There is another remarkable ornament of the young Kaffir women, which I call the semi-belt. It is flat, generally made of strings and thongs, and ornamented at intervals with beads arranged in cross-bands. At each end is a loop, through which a string is passed, so that the wearer can fasten it round her body. Now, the belt is only long enough to go half round the body, and the mode of wearing it is rather remarkable. Instead of placing the whole of the belt in front, as naturally might be supposed, the wearer passes it round one side of the body, so that one end is in front, and the other behind. Strange as is this mode of wearing it, the custom is universal, and in every group of girls or young women several are sure to be wearing a semi-belt round the body. Another of these belts is shown in the illustration of “Kaffir ornaments” on page 49, fig. 3. This is not so elaborate an article, and has only a few bands of beads, instead of being nearly covered with them.

As for the necklaces worn by the Kaffir women, they are generally nothing more than strings of beads, and require no particular notice. There is one, however, which is so different from the ordinary necklaces, that I have had it engraved. It may be seen in the illustration at page 49, fig. 3, next to the handsome bead apron which has already been described. As may be seen by reference to the illustration, it is formed entirely of beads, and is ornamented with six triangular appendages, also made of beads. The general color of the beads is white, but the interior of the triangular appendages is cobalt blue; while the larger beads that are placed singly upon the necklace are of ruby glass. When this remarkable necklace is placed round the neck, the triangular flaps fall regularly on the breast and shoulders, and, when contrasted with the dark skin of the wearer, have an admirable effect.

Lately, two articles of dress, or rather of ornament, have been imported from Europe into Africa, and have met with great success among the chocolate-colored belles of Kaffirland. Enterprising traders in Southern Africa do not set up permanent shops as we do in England, but stock a wagon with all sorts of miscellaneous goods, and undertake journeys into the interior, where they barter their stock for elephants’ tusks and teeth, horns, skins, ostrich feathers, and similar commodities. They have a most miscellaneous assortment of goods, and act very much in the same manner as those wandering traders among ourselves who are popularly called “cheap Johns,” the chief distinction being that their stock is by no means cheap, but is sold at about 1,000 per[54] cent. profit on the original outlay. This seems rather an excessive percentage; but it must be remembered that the old adage of high interest and bad security holds good in this as in other speculations. War may break out, the trader be speared, his wagon robbed, and his oxen confiscated. The dreaded murrain may carry off his cattle, or they may be starved for want of food, slowly killed by thirst, or drowned by a sudden rush of water, which may almost instantaneously convert a dry gully into a raging torrent that sweeps everything before it. Fashions may change, and his whole stock be valueless; or some “prophet” may take it into his head to proclaim that the sound of his wagon wheels prevents the rain from falling. Moreover, he is unmercifully fleeced by the different chiefs through whose territories he passes, and who exact an extortionate toll before they will allow him to pass to the next chief, who will serve him in much the same manner. Altogether, if the journey be a successful one, the trader will make about fifty or sixty per cent. clear profit; but, as the journey is often an utter failure, this is really no very exorbitant rate of interest on his outlay.

The trader will, above all things, take plenty of tobacco—this being the key to the heart of a Kaffir, old or young, man or woman. He will take guns and ammunition for the men; also spirits of the roughest and coarsest kind, a better and purer article being quite wasted on his sable customers. Beads, of course, he carries, as well as buttons, blankets, and other luxuries; also he will have the great iron hoe blades with which the women till the ground, that he can sell for one-sixth of the price and which are twice the quality of the native-made hoe. One of these bold wagon-owners bethought himself of buying a few gross of brass curtain rings of the largest size, and was gratified by finding that they were eagerly bought up wherever he went. The natives saw at once that the brass rings were better bracelets than could be made by themselves, and they accordingly lavished their savage treasures in order to buy them.

One of the oddest examples of the vicissitude of African trade occurred some few years ago. An English vessel arrived at the port, a large part of her cargo consisting of stout iron wire, nearly the whole of which was bought by the natives, and straightway vanished, no one knowing what had become of it. The mystery was soon solved. Suddenly the Kaffir belles appeared in new and fashionable costume. Some of them had been to the towns inhabited by Europeans, and had seen certain “cages” hung outside the drapers’ shops. They inquired the use of these singular objects, and were told that they were the fashionable attire of European ladies. They straightway burned to possess similar costumes, and when the vessel arrived with its cargo of wire they bought it up, and took it home for the purpose of imitating the white ladies. Of course they had not the least idea that any other article of apparel was necessary, and so they wore none, but walked about the streets quite proud of their fashionable appearance.

As the dancers are encumbered with such an amount of decoration, and as they exert themselves most violently, a very natural result follows. The climate is very hot, and the exercise makes the dancer hotter, so that the abundant grease trickles over the face and body, and inconveniences the performer, who is certainly not fastidious in her notions. As to handkerchiefs, or anything approaching to the idea of such articles, she is in perfect ignorance, her whole outfit consisting of the little apron above mentioned, and an unlimited supply of beads. But she is not unprovided for emergencies, and carries with her an instrument very like the “strigil” of the ancients, and used for much the same purpose. Sometimes it is made of bone, sometimes of wood, sometimes of ivory, and sometimes of metal. It varies much in shape, but is generally hollowed slightly, like a carpenter’s gouge, and has its edges made about as sharp as those of an ordinary paper knife. In fact, it very much resembles a magnified marrow spoon.

A specimen of the commoner sort is given at fig. 6, in “Kaffir ornaments,” on page 49. The material of this strigil is iron, and it is attached to a plain leather strap.

Sometimes a rather unexpected article is substituted for the strigil, as may be seen from the following anecdote related by Mr. G. H. Mason. He went to see the wedding of a Kaffir chief, who was about to marry his fourteenth wife, and found the bridegroom seated in the midst of the village, encircled by a row of armed warriors, and beyond them by a row of women with children.

“Scarcely had we taken our station near the Umdodie (husband), when a low shrill chant came floating on the breeze from the bottom of a lovely vale hard by, where I descried a long train of damsels slowly wending their way among bright green patches of Indian corn and masses of flowering shrubs, studded with giant cactus, and the huge flowering aloe. As the procession neared the huts, they quickened their pace and raised their voices to the highest pitch, until they arrived at the said cattle-kraal, where they stood motionless and silent.

“A messenger from the Umdodie then bade them enter the kraal, an order that they instantly obeyed, by twos, the youngest leading the way, closely followed by the rest, and terminated by a host of marriageable young ladies (Intombies), clustering thick around the bride—a fat, good-natured girl, wrapped round and round with black glazed calico, and decked from head to foot with flowers, beads, and feathers. Once within[55] the kraal, the ladies formed two lines, with the bride in the centre, and struck up a lively air; whereupon the whole body of armed Kaffirs rushed from all parts of the kraal, beating their shields, and uttering demon yells as they charged headlong at the smiling girls, who joined with the stalwart warriors in cutting capers and singing lustily, until the whole kraal was one confused mass of demons, roaring out hoarse war-songs and shrill love-ditties. After an hour, dancing ceased, and joila (Kaffir beer) was served round, while the lovely bride stood in the midst of the ring alone, stared at by all, and staring in turn at all, until she brought her eyes to bear on her admiring lord. Then, advancing leisurely, she danced before him, amid shouts of the bystanders, singing at the top of her voice, and brandishing a huge carving-knife, with which she scraped big drops of perspiration from her heated head, produced by the unusually violent exercise she was performing.”

It appears, from the same observant writer, that whatever the amount of finery may be which a Kaffir girl wears, it is considered only consistent with ordinary gallantry that it should be admired. While he was building a house, assisted by a number of Kaffirs, he found that his men never allowed the dusky maidens to pass within sight without saluting them, or standing quite motionless, full in their path, so that each might mutually inspect the other.

“Thus it frequently happened that troops of girls came in from the Kaffir kraals with maize, thatch, milk, eggs, wild fruit, sugar-cane, potatoes, &c., &c., for sale; and no sooner did their shrill song reach the ears of our servants, than they rushed from their work, just as they were, some besmeared with mud, others spattered with whitewash, and the rest armed with spades, pickaxes, buckets, brick-moulds, or whatever else chanced to be in their hands at the moment.”

There is a curious kind of ornament much in vogue among the Kaffir women, namely, a series of raised scars upon the wrists, and extending partially up the arms. These scars are made in childhood, and the wounds are filled with some substance that causes them to be raised above the level of the skin. They fancy that these scars are useful as well as ornamental, and consider them in the light of amulets. Other portions of the limbs are sometimes decorated with these scars; and in one or two cases, not only the limbs, but the whole body, has been nearly covered with them. The material with which the wounds are filled is supposed to be the ashes of a snake.

During their dances, the Kaffirs of both sexes like to make as much noise as possible, and aid their voices by certain mechanical contrivances. One of the most simple is made of a number of dry seeds. In shape these seeds are angular, and much resemble the common Brazil nut in form. The shell of the seed is very thin and hard, and the kernel shrinks within it so as to rattle about with every movement. In some cases the kernel is removed, and the rattling sound is produced entirely by the hard shells striking against each other. When a number of these seeds are strung together, and upon the legs or arms, they make quite a loud rattling sound, in accordance with the movements of the dancers, and are, in fact, the Kaffir substitutes for castanets. In some parts of Central Africa, a curious imitation of these natural castanets is made. It consists of a thin shell of iron, exactly resembling in form that of the nut, and having a little iron ball within, which takes the place of the shrivelled kernel.

Earrings are worn in Kaffirland as well as in other parts of the world, and are equally fashionable in both sexes. The ears are pierced at a very early age, and the aperture enlarged by having a graduated series of bits of wood thrust through them, until they are large enough to hold a snuff box, an ivory knob, or similar ornament.

One of these earring snuff boxes may be seen in the illustration “Dress” p. 49, fig. 6. It is made of a piece of reed, three inches in length, closed at one end; and having a stopper thrust into the other. The original color of the reed is bright yellow, with a high natural polish, but the Kaffir is not satisfied with having it in its natural state, and ornaments it with various patterns in black. These are produced by charring the wood with a hot iron, and the neatness and truth of the work is very astonishing, when the rudeness of the tools is taken into consideration. In the present specimen, the pattern is alternate diamonds of black and yellow. This mode of decorating their ornaments and utensils is very common among the Kaffirs, and we shall see more of it as we proceed. Snuff boxes are not, however, the only ornaments which a Kaffir will wear in the ears, for there is scarcely anything which is tolerably showy and which can be fastened to the ear that will not be worn there.




The architecture of these tribes is very simple, and, although slightly variable in different localities, is marked throughout by similar characteristics. On looking at any specimen of Kaffir architecture, the spectator is at once struck with one peculiarity, namely, that all his buildings are circular. It is a remarkable fact that the Kaffir does not seem to be capable of marking out a straight line, and whether he builds a hut, or erects a fence, he takes the circle as his guide. A Kaffir’s attempts to erect a square enclosure, or even to build a fence in a straight line, are ludicrous failures. With Europeans the case is different. A settler who desires to build a fence wherein to enclose his garden, or a stockade within which his house and property can remain in safety, invariably builds on the rectilinear principle, and makes the fence in the form of a square. He would feel himself quite fettered if he were forced to build a circular enclosure, whereas the Kaffir would be as much at a loss if he were obliged to build a square edifice. Indeed, though the European could, at the cost of some trouble, build a circular house, and would make his circle true, the Kaffir would utterly fail in attempting to make a building of a square or an oblong form.

One of my friends, who has travelled much among the Kaffir tribes, and gone among villages whose inhabitants had never seen an European building, told me that it was hardly possible to make the natives comprehend the structure of an European house. The very shape of it puzzled them, and the gable ends and the ridged roof seemed so strange to them as to be scarcely credible. As to the various stories in a house, several rooms on a story, and staircases which lead from one to the other, they flatly declined to believe that anything of the kind could exist, and thought that their guest was trying to amuse himself at the expense of their credulity. They did believe in the possibility of St. Paul’s cathedral, on account of its domed roof, but they could not be induced to believe in its size. They defended their position by argument, not merely contenting themselves with assertions. Their chief argument was derived from the impossibility of such a building sustaining its own weight. The only building materials of which they had any experience were the posts and sticks of which their own houses were made, and the reeds wherewith they were thatched. Sometimes a very luxurious house-owner would plaster the interior with mud, producing that peculiar style of architecture which is popularly called “wattle-and-daub.” They could not comprehend in the least that stone could be used in building dwelling-houses; and the whole system of cutting stone into rectangular pieces, and the use of bricks, was equally beyond their comprehension. Mortar also was an inexplicable mystery, so that on the whole they decided on discrediting the tales told them by the white man.


(See page 70.)


A Kaffir house (see page 155) looks just like an exaggerated beehive. It is of precisely the same shape, is made of nearly the same materials, and has a little arched door, just like the entrance of a beehive, through which a man can barely creep on his hands and knees. The structure of these huts is very simple. A circle is drawn of some fourteen feet in diameter, and around it are stuck a number of long, flexible sticks. These sticks are then bent over at the top and tied together, so as to form a framework very like a common wire mousetrap. A reed thatching is then laid over the sticks, and secured in its place by parallel lashings. These lashings are made of “monkey-ropes,” or the creepers that extend their interminable length from tree to tree, and are found of every size, from a cable to a packthread. They twist themselves into so rope-like a shape, that many persons have refused to believe that they have not been artificially made. The rows of lashing are about eighteen inches apart. In shape, the hut is exactly like the well-known snow house of the Esquimaux.

As, during the wet season, the rain pours down in torrents, the huts would be swamped for several months but for the precaution which the natives take of digging round each hut a trench of some eighteen inches or two feet in depth, and the same in breadth. This trench is about six inches from the wall of the hut, and serves to keep the floor dry. The reader may remember that all European soldiers are taught to dig a trench round each hut while they are under canvas, the neglect of this precaution being sure to cause both great inconvenience and unhealthiness.

The woman generally marks the outline of her hut in a very simple manner. She takes a number of flexible sticks, and ties them together firmly with leathern thongs, or the rough and ready string which the Kaffirs make from rushes by tearing them into strips and rolling them on the leg with the palm of the hand. Three or even four sticks are usually joined together, in order to attain sufficient length. She then pushes one end deeply into the ground, bends the other end over so as to make an arch, and pushes that into the ground also. This arch becomes the key to the whole building, settling its height and width. Another arch is set in the ground at right angles to the former, and the two are lashed together at the top where they cross, so that a rough kind of skeleton of the hut is made in a very short time.

On the roof of the hut may sometimes be seen the skulls of oxen. This ornament is highly characteristic of the Kaffir. The high value which he sets on his cows is not surpassed by the love of the most confirmed miser for his gold. But there is another trait of the Kaffir mind, which is even stronger than avarice, and that is ostentation, to which his cattle become of secondary consideration. Unwilling as he is to kill any of the cattle which constitute his wealth, and which he values scarcely less than his own life, he will, on certain occasions, slaughter one, and give a feast to his neighbors, who are sure to praise him in terms suitable to the magnificence—i. e. the quantity—of the banquet. He is nearly certain to be addressed as Father, and perhaps some of the more enthusiastic, when excited by beef, beer, and snuff, may actually hail him as Chief. The slaughter of an ox is therefore a great event in the life of a Kaffir, and is sure to act as a step toward higher rank. Lest the memory of such an event should fade away as soon as the banquet has been ended, the proud donor takes the skull of the slaughtered ox and places it on the roof of his hut, where it remains as a sign that the owner of the dwelling is a man of property, and has been able to spare one of his oxen to serve as a feast for his friends.

The building being now finished, the opening which serves as a door is cut on one side, its edges guarded with plaited twigs, and the Kaffir desires no better house. Though it has no window, no chimney, and no door that deserves the name, he would not exchange it for a palace, and many instances have been known where Kaffirs who have been taken to European cities, have travelled much, and been tolerably educated, have flung off their civilized garments, re-assumed the skin-dress of their nation, and gone off to live in huts instead of houses. The whole structure is necessarily very fragile, and the walls cannot endure much violence. A curious example of their fragility occurred some time ago, when one chief made a raid upon the village of another. A number of men had taken refuge in a hut, from which it was not easy to drive them. Assagais were hurled through the sides of the hut, and did much damage to the inmates. The survivors tried to save themselves by climbing up the framework of the hut and clinging to the roof, but the slight structure could not support their bodies, and by yielding to their weight betrayed them to the watchful enemies without.

The upper illustration on page 63 represents the interior of an exceptionally large hut, being, in fact, the principal residence of a chief. Very few huts have more than four supporting posts. On the left may be seen two of the large store baskets, in which milk is kept and made into “amasi,” while just beyond the first basket is a sleeping mat rolled up and resting against the wall. Some large earthenware pots, such as are used in cookery, are seen at the farther end of the hut, and a calabash rests against one of the posts. To the roof are hung bunches of maize, according to the curious Kaffir custom, which seems to ignore the fact that every thing on the roof of a hut is soon[60] blackened with soot, owing to the smoke from the fire. Whether large or small, all the houses are made on exactly the same principle, and except for their superior size, and the ox skulls which decorate them, the houses occupied by chiefs have nothing to distinguish them from those which are inhabited by their dependants.

Against brute foes the hut is sometimes but a frail protection. On one occasion an elephant was attracted by a quantity of millet, which was stored within a fence. He pushed his way through the useless barrier, and began feeding on the millet. There was a fire in one of the huts, and the elephant, instead of being scared by it, became angry, knocked the house to pieces, and walked over the ruins, trampling to death a woman who was lying asleep. Her husband nearly shared the same fate, but managed to roll out of the way, and then to escape by creeping between the legs of the angry elephant.

The roof of the hut is not wholly dependent for support on the flexible sticks which form its walls, but is held up by a post or two, on the top of which is laid a cross-beam. This arrangement also permits the owner of the hut to hang to the beam and posts sundry articles which he does not wish to be injured by being thrown on the ground, such as gourds, baskets, assagai-shafts, spoons, and other implements.

Ranged carelessly round the hut are the rude earthenware pots, in which the Kaffir keeps his beer, his milk, and present stores of grain. The floor of the hut is always kept scrupulously clean, and is generally as hard as stone, being made of well-kneaded clay laid very smoothly, and beaten until it is quite hard. The best clay for this purpose is obtained from the nests of the white ant, which are beaten to pieces, then pounded, and then mixed very carefully with water. In a well-regulated hut, the women are very careful of their floor, and rub it daily with flat stones, until it is not only smooth, but even polished.

Just within the entrance is the primitive fireplace. This, like almost everything which the Kaffir makes, is circular in form, and is made usually of mud; its only object is to confine the embers within a limited space.

Cooking is not always carried on in the ordinary house, nor is the fire kept constantly. In a permanent kraal there are cooking huts erected for that one special purpose, and not used for any other. They may be called demi-huts, as their only object is to guard the fire from the effect of wind. They are circular, like all ordinary huts, but their walls are only four feet or so in height, and are carefully daubed with a mixture of clay and cowdung, so as to form a most efficient protection against the wind. The smoke from the fire is allowed to escape as it can. Some of it contrives to force its way between the interstices of the thatch, as may be seen by reference to the illustration on page 63. Some of it circles around the walls and pours through the door-way, but the greater part of it settles, in the form of soot, upon the interior of the hut, blackening everything within it. When the Kaffirs wish to season the wood of their assagai-shafts or knobkerries, they stick it into the roof of the house, just above the fireplace, exactly as bacon is cured in the smoke.

A curious reference to this custom is made in a song composed in honor of Panda, King of the Zulu tribes. When Dingan murdered his predecessor Tchaka, he killed other chiefs at the same time, but was persuaded to leave Panda alive—

“Of the stock of Ndabitza, ramrod of brass,
Survivor alone of all other rods;
Others they broke, but left this in the soot,
Thinking to burn it some rainy cold day.”

Reference is here made to the custom of leaving sticks and shafts in the sooty roof.

At night, the entrance of the hut is closed by a simple door made of wicker work, and looking much like the closely-woven sheep hurdles which are used in some parts of England. With the exception that the Kaffir always sits down at his work, the mode of making these doors is almost identical with that which is employed by the shepherds in this country.

The Kaffir begins by choosing some straight and tolerably stout sticks, and driving them into the ground at regular distances from each other. These are intended as the supports or framework of the door. He then takes a quantity of pliant sticks, like the osiers of our basket makers, and weaves them in and out of the upright stakes, beating them down continually to make them lie closely together. When the door is completed, the upright sticks are cut off to the proper length, and it can then be fitted to the hut. If the reader has any acquaintance with military affairs, he may remember that gabions are made in precisely the same manner, except that the upright stakes are placed in a circle, and not in a straight line. In order to keep the wind from blowing too freely into their huts, the Kaffirs make screens, which are placed so as to shelter the entrance. These screens are made of sticks and rushes such as the door is made of, only of lighter materials, and their position can be shifted with every change of wind.

Some of the permanent houses are built with a great amount of care, and occupy at least a month in their construction. In most of them the interior view is much the same,[61] namely, the domed roof, supported by four posts placed in the form of a square, with the fireplace exactly in the centre. The natives will often expend much time and trouble in decorating their permanent mansions, and Mr. Christie tells me that he has seen the very posts thickly encrusted with beads. Of course they soon become blackened by the smoke, but a quick rub of the palm of the hand brings out the colors anew. One of Dingan’s huts, which was visited by Retief, the Dutch colonist, was most beautifully built, and supported by twenty-two pillars, each of which was entirely covered with beads.

The huts are, from the nature of the material of which they are made, exceedingly inflammable, and it sometimes happens that if one of the houses of a village take fire, the whole of them are consumed in a very short time. Fortunately, they are so easily built that the inconvenience is not nearly so great as is the case when European houses are burned. Moreover, the furniture which they contain is so limited in quantity and so simple in material, that it can be replaced without much difficulty. A mat or two, a few baskets, a pillow, a milking pail, one or two rude earthenware pots, and a bundle of assagais, constitute an amount of property which is not to be found in every hut.

The huts of the Kaffirs are generally gathered together into little groups, which are popularly called “kraals.” This is not a Zulu or a Hottentot word, and is probably a corruption of the word “corral.” There are two modes of forming a kraal, and the particular mode is determined by the locality. The Kaffir tribes generally like to place their kraal on the side of a hill in the vicinity of the bush, in order that they may obtain plenty of building material. They are, however, sufficiently acquainted with the principles of fortification to clear a large space around their dwellings, so that, in case they should be attacked, the enemy cannot conceal his movements from the defenders.

The first care of a Kaffir is to protect his beloved cows, and for that purpose a circular space is enclosed with a high fence, made very strongly. The fence is about six or seven feet in height, and is made in a simple and very effective manner. The fence which surrounds the cattle and the huts is mostly made in one of two modes—at all events, in the more southern part of the country, where timber is exceedingly plentiful. The tribes on the north of Kaffirland, who live where timber is comparatively scarce, build their walls of large stones piled on one another, without any mortar, or even mud, to fill up the interstices. The southern tribes use nothing but wood, and form the walls by two different methods. That which is commonly employed is very simple. A number of trees are felled, and their trunks severed a few feet below the spot whence the branches spring. A great number of these tree tops are then arranged in a circle, the severed ends of the stems being inward, and the branches pointing outward. In fact, the fence is exactly that species of rapid and effective fortification called, in military language, an “abattis.” If the branches of a tree are very large, they can be laid singly on the ground, just as if they were the entire heads of trees.

In some cases, where the kraal is more carefully built, the fence is formed of stout poles, which are driven into the ground, in a double row, some three feet apart, and are then lashed together in such a way that their tops cross each other. In consequence of this arrangement, the fence stands very firmly on its broad basis, while the crossing and projecting tops of the poles form a chevaux de frise as effectual as any that is made by the European soldier. If the enemy try to climb the fence, they can be wounded by spears thrust at them from the interior; and if they succeed in reaching the top, the sharp tips of the poles are ready to embarrass them.

The entrance to this enclosure is just wide enough to allow a cow to pass; and in some places, where the neighborhood is insecure, it is so narrow that there hardly seems to be space enough for the cattle to pass in and out. Each night it is carefully closed with poles and sticks, which are kept just within the entrance, so as to be ready to hand when wanted. Opposite to the entrance, and at the further extremity, a small enclosure, also with circular walls, is built. In this pen the larger calves are kept, the younger being inmates of the huts, together with the human inhabitants. By the side of this enclosure a little gap is left in the fence, just large enough for a man to squeeze himself through, and not large enough to allow even a calf to pass. This little aperture is the chief’s private door, and intended for the purpose of saving time, as otherwise, if the chief were inspecting his cattle, and wished to go to his own hut, he would be obliged to walk all round the fence. The Zulu name for the space within this fence is “isi-baya.”

Around the isi-baya are set the huts which constitute the kraal. Their number is exceedingly variable, but the general average is from ten to fourteen. Those which are placed at either side of the entrance to the isi-baya are devoted to the servants, while that which is exactly opposite to it is the habitation of the chief man. There are mostly a great many kraals belonging to one tribe, and it often happens that several neighboring kraals are all tenanted by the members of one family and their dependants. For example, when the son of a chief attains sufficient consequence to possess several wives and a herd of cattle, he finds that the paternal kraal is not large enough to[62] afford to each wife the separate hut to which she is entitled; so he migrates with his family to a short distance, and there builds a kraal for himself, sometimes so close to that of his father that he connects them by means of a short fenced passage. The chief hut may easily be known, not only by its position, but by its larger dimensions. Some of the other huts are occupied by married men, some by his wives, some by his servants; while at least one hut is reserved for the use of the unmarried men, or “boys,” as they are called.

This is all that is needed to complete a kraal, i. e. the circular isi-baya, and the huts round it. But, in situations where plenty of wood can be found, the Kaffir architect erects a second fence, which encloses all the huts, as well as the isi-baya, and has its entrance in exactly the same position, i. e. opposite to the chief’s hut. The distant view of one of these doubly-fenced kraals, when it happens to be situated on the slope of a hill, is extremely curious, and would scarcely give a stranger an idea of a village.

It will be seen in an engraving opposite, that the central portion of the kraal is given to the isi-baya, and that the Kaffirs devote all their energies toward preserving their cows, while they seem to look with comparative indifference on the risk of exposing themselves or their fragile huts to the inroads of the enemy. As has already been stated, the size of the kraal varies with the wealth and rank of its chief man, and, owing to its mode of construction, can be gradually enlarged as he rises to higher dignities and the possession of more cattle. In shape, however, and the principle of construction, kraals are alike, that of the king himself and the newly-made kraal of a younger son being exactly the same in these respects.

The king’s kraals, however, are of enormous dimensions, and are several in number. Panda, for example, has one kraal, the central enclosure of which is nearly a mile in diameter. This enclosure is supposed to be filled with the monarch’s cows, and is consequently called by the name of isi-baya. Practically, however, the cattle are kept in smaller enclosures, arranged along the sides of the isi-baya, where they can be watched by those who have the charge of them, and whose huts are placed conveniently for that purpose. The vast central enclosure is used almost exclusively as a parade ground, where the king can review his troops, and where they are taught to go through the simple manœuvres of Kaffir warfare. Here, also, he may be seen in council, the isi-baya being able, to accommodate an unlimited number of suitors.

Around the isi-baya are arranged the huts of the warriors and their families, and are placed in four or even five-fold ranks; so that the kraal almost rises to the dignity of a town, having several thousand inhabitants, and presenting a singularly imposing appearance when viewed at a distance. At the upper portion of the kraal, and at the further end from the principal entrance, are the huts specially erected for the king, surrounded by the other huts containing his harem. The whole of this part of the kraal is separated from the remainder by lofty and strong fences, and its doors are kept by sentinels especially set aside for this purpose. In some cases, the warriors to whom this important duty is confided are not permitted to wear clothes of any kind, and are compelled to pass the whole of the time, day and night, when on guard, without even a kaross to cover them. This rule lies rather heavily upon them in the winter nights, when the cold is often severe, and the wind sweeps chillily around the fence of the isi-baya.

However, the young ladies will sometimes contrive to evade the vigilance of the sentries, when their attention is otherwise engaged, as is amusingly shown in a few remarks by Mr. Angas. He had gone by Panda’s invitation to see him at one of his great kraals:—“Last night we slept at the new military kraal, or garrison town, of Indabakaumbi, whither the king had sent word by message that he would be waiting to receive us. The Inkosikasi, or queen, of the kraal sent us a small quantity of thick milk and a jar of millet, and soon afterward made her appearance, holding two of the king’s children by the hand, for whom she requested a present of beads. The children were remarkably pretty, nicely oiled, and tastefully decorated with girdles of blue and scarlet beads. The old lady, on the contrary, was so alarmingly stout, that it seemed almost impossible for her to walk; and that it required some considerable time for her to regain the harem at the upper end of the kraal was made manifest by some fifty of the king’s girls effecting their escape from the rear of the seraglio, and sallying down the slope to stare at us as we rode away from the kraal. The agility of the young ladies, as they sprang from rock to rock, convinced us that they would be all quietly sitting in the harem, as though nothing had happened, long before the Inkosikasi gained her dwelling.”

At that time Panda had thirteen of these great military kraals, each serving as the military capital of a district, and he had just completed a fourteenth. He takes up his residence in these kraals successively, and finds in each everything that he can possibly want—each being, indeed, almost identical in every respect with all the others. As a general rule, each of these military kraals forms the residence of a single regiment; while the king has many others, which are devoted to more peaceful objects.


(See page 59.)

(See page 62.)


It has already been mentioned that the women live in a portion separated from the rest of the kraal, and it may almost be said that they reside in a small supplementary kraal, which communicates by gates with the chief edifice. As the gates are strongly barred at night, it is necessary that the sentinel should enter the sacred precincts of the harem, for the purpose of closing them at night, and opening them in the morning. For this purpose, certain individuals of the sentinels are told off, and to them alone is the delicate duty confided. The Kaffir despot does not employ for this purpose the unfortunate individuals who guard the harems in Turkey, Persia, and even in Western Africa. But the king takes care to select men who are particularly ill-favored; and if any of them should happen to be deformed, he is sure to be chosen as a janitor. Mr. Shooter’s servant, when talking with his master on the subject, mentioned several individuals who would make excellent janitors. One of them had a club-foot, another had a very protuberant chest, while a third had bad eyes, and was altogether so ugly that he would never succeed in procuring a wife. The matrimonial adventures of this man will be narrated in a future page. His uniform failures in procuring a legitimate wife were exceedingly ludicrous and mortifying, and quite justified the opinion expressed by his companion.




The isi-baya is quite a sacred spot to a Kaffir, and in many tribes the women are so strictly prohibited from entering it, that if even the favorite wife were discovered within its precincts she would have but a very poor chance of her life.

During the day-time the herd are out at pasture, watched by “boys” appointed to this important office, but when night approaches, or if there is any indication of danger from enemies, the cows are driven into the isi-baya, and the entrances firmly barred. It is mostly in this enclosure that the cattle are milked, this operation being always intrusted to the men. Indeed, as is well observed by Mr. Shooter, milking his cows is the only work that a Kaffir really likes. About ten in the morning the cattle are taken into the isi-baya, and the Kaffir proceeds to milk them. He takes with him his milk pail, an article very unlike that which is in use in Europe. It is carved out of a solid piece of wood, and has a comparatively small opening. The specimen from which the figure on page 67 is drawn was brought to England by Mr. Shooter, and is now before me. It is rather more than seventeen inches in length, and is four inches wide at the top, and six inches near the bottom. In interior measurement it is only fourteen inches deep, so that three inches of solid wood are left at the bottom. Its capacity is not very great, as the Kaffir cow does not give nearly as much milk as the cows of an English farmyard. Toward the top are two projecting ears, which enable the milker to hold it firmly between the knees.

In hollowing out the interior of the pail, the Kaffir employs a rather ingenious device. Instead of holding it between his knees, as he does when shaping and ornamenting the exterior, he digs a hole in the ground, and buries the pail as far as the two projecting ears. He then has both his hands at liberty, and can use more force than if he were obliged to trust to the comparatively slight hold afforded by the knees. Of course he sits down while at work, for a Kaffir, like all other savages, has the very strongest objection to needless labor, and will never stand when he has any opportunity of sitting. It will be seen that the pail is not capable of holding much more than the quantity which a good cow ought to yield, and when the Kaffir has done with one cow, he pours the milk into a large receptacle, and then goes off with his empty pail to another cow for a fresh supply.

The scene that presents itself in the isi-baya is a very singular one, and strikes oddly upon European ears, as well as eyes. In the first place, the figure of the milker is calculated to present an aspect equally strange and ludicrous. Perfectly naked, with the exception of the smallest imaginable apology for a garment, adorned with strings of beads that contrast boldly with his red-black skin, and with his head devoid of hair, except the oval ring which denotes his position as a married “man,” the Kaffir sits on the ground, his knees on a level with his chin, and the queer-looking milk pail grasped between them.

Then we have the spectacle of the calf trying[67] to eject the milker, and being continually kept away from her mother by a young boy armed with a stick. And, in cases where the cow is vicious, a third individual is employed, who holds the cow by her horns with one hand, and grasps her nostrils firmly with the other. As soon as the supply of milk ceases, the calf is allowed to approach its mother and suck for a short time, after which it is driven away, and the man resumes his place. Cattle are milked twice in the day, the second time being at sunset, when they are brought home for the night. Generally, however, a cow will stand still to be milked, as is the case with our own cattle, and in that case no precaution is needed, except that of putting through the nose a stick of some eighteen inches in length. The cattle know by experience that if this is grasped and twisted it gives great pain, and so they prefer to remain quiet. The hole in the nose is made at a very early age.


So much for the strangeness of the sight, which is very unlike a corresponding scene in an English farmyard. The Kaffir is never silent while milking his cows, but thinks it necessary to utter a series of the oddest sounds that ever greeted mortal ears. Even in England there seems to be a kind of universal cow language, in which every dairy-maid and farmyard laborer is versed, and which is not easily learned by an uninitiate. But the Kaffir, who is naturally an adept at shouting and yelling, encourages the cow by all the varied screams at his command, mixed with loud whistles and tender words of admiration. One consequence of this curious proceeding is, that the cows have always been so accustomed to associate these sounds with the process of being milked, that when an Englishman buys cows he is obliged to have a Kaffir to milk them, no white man being able to produce those cries, screams, and whistles to which they have always been accustomed.

In driving the cattle, and in calling them from a distance, the Kaffir makes great use of whistling, an art in which he excels. With his lips alone he can produce the most extraordinary sounds, and by the aid of his fingers he can whistle so loudly as to half deafen any one who may be near. Sometimes, however, he has recourse to art, and makes whistles of great efficacy, though of simple construction. They are made of bone, or ivory, and are used by being held to the lower lip, and sounded exactly as we blow a key when we wish to ascertain whether it is clear.


The chiefs who possess many oxen are very fastidious about them, and have an odd fancy of assembling them in herds, in which every animal is of the same color. The oxen also undergo a sort of training, as was remarked by Retief, who was killed in battle with Dingan, the Zulu king. He paid a visit to that treacherous despot, and was entertained by dances in which the cattle had been trained to assist. “In one dance,” he says, “the people were intermixed with one hundred and seventy-six oxen, all without horns, and of one color. They have long strips of skin hanging pendent from the forehead, cheeks, shoulders, and under the throat; these strips being cut from the hide when the animals are calves. These oxen are divided into two and three among the whole army, which then dance in companies, each with its attendant oxen. In this way they all in turn approach the king, the oxen turning off into a kraal, and then manœuvring in a line from the king. It is surprising that the oxen should be so well trained; for, notwithstanding all the startling and yelling which accompany the dance, they never move faster than a slow walking pace. Dingan showed me, as he said, his smallest herd of oxen, all alike, and with white backs. He allowed two of my people to count them, and the enumeration amounted to two thousand four hundred and twenty-four. I am informed that his herds of red and black oxen consist of three to four thousand each.” I may here mention casually, that the same fashion of keeping animals of similar colors in separate herds is in force in South America, among the owners of the vast herds of horses which thrive so well in that country.

The Kaffirs manage their cattle with wonderful skill, and the animals perfectly understand the meaning of the cries with which they are assailed. Consequently, it is almost as difficult for an Englishman to drive his cows as to milk them, and assistance has to be sought from the natives. This noisy method of cattle driving is the source of much difficulty to the soldiers, when they have been sent to recover cattle stolen by those inveterate thieves, the Kaffir tribes, who look upon the cattle of the white man as their legitimate prize, and are constantly on the look-out for them. Indeed, they enact at the present day that extinct phase of Scottish life when the inhabitants of the Highlands stole the cattle of the Lowlanders, and euphemistically described the operation as “lifting;” themselves not being by any means thieves, but “gentleman drovers,” very punctilious in point of honor, and thinking themselves as good gentlemen as any in the land.

The cow constitutes now, in fact, the wealth of the Kaffir, just as was the case in the early patriarchal days. Among those tribes which are not brought into connection with the white man, money is of no value, and all wealth is measured by cows. One of the great inland chiefs, when asking about the Queen of England, was naturally desirous of hearing how many cattle she possessed, and on hearing that many of her subjects had more cows than herself, conceived a very mean opinion of her power. He counted his cattle by the thousand, and if any inferior chief had dared to rival him in his wealth, that chief would very soon be incapacitated from possessing anything at all, while his cattle would swell the number of the royal herds. His idea was, that even if her predecessor had bequeathed so poor a throne to her, she ought to assert her dignity by seizing that wealth which she had not been fortunate enough to inherit.

The cow is the unit of money. The cost of anything that is peculiarly valuable is reckoned by the number of cows that it would fetch if sold, and even the women are reckoned by this standard, eight cows equalling one woman, just as twelve pence equal one shilling. Most of the wars which devastate Southern Africa are caused entirely by the desire of one man to seize the herds that belong to another, and when the white man is engaged in African warfare, he is perforce obliged to wage it on the same principle. During the late Kaffir war, the reports of the newspapers had a singularly unimposing appearance. The burden of their song was invariably cows. General Blank had advanced so far into the enemy’s country, and driven off five thousand head of cattle. Or perhaps the case was reversed; the position of the European troops had been suddenly surprised, and several thousand cattle stolen. In fact, it seemed to be a war solely about cattle, and, to a certain extent, that was necessarily the case. The cattle formed not only the wealth of the enemy, but his resources, so that there was no better way of bringing him to terms than by cutting off his commissariat, and preventing the rebellious chiefs from maintaining their armed forces. We had no wish to kill the Kaffirs themselves, but merely that they should be taught not to meddle with us, and there was no better way of doing so than by touching them on their tenderest point.

The greatest ambition of a Kaffir is to possess cattle, inasmuch as their owner can command every luxury which a savage millionaire desires. He can eat beef and drink sour milk every day; he can buy as many wives as he likes, at the current price of eight to fourteen cows each, according to the fluctuation of the market; he can make all kinds of useful articles out of the hides; he can lubricate himself with fat to his heart’s content, and he can decorate his sable person with the flowing tails. With plenty of cattle, he can set himself up as a great man; and, the more cattle he has, the[69] greater man he becomes. Instead of being a mere “boy,” living with a number of other “boys” in one hut, he becomes a “man,” shaves his head, assumes the proud badge of manhood, and has a hut to himself. As his cattle increase, he adds more wives to his stock, builds separate huts for them, has a kraal of his own, becomes the “umnumzana,” or great man—a term about equivalent to the familiar “Burra Sahib” of Indian life—and may expect to be addressed by strange boys as “inkosi,” or chief. Should his cattle prosper, he gathers round him the young men who are still poor, and who are attracted by his wealth, and the hope of eating beef at his cost. He assigns huts to them within his kraal, and thus possesses an armed guard who will take care of his cherished cattle. Indeed, such a precaution is absolutely necessary. In Africa, as well as in Europe, wealth creates envy, and a man who has succeeded in gathering it knows full well that there are plenty who will do their best to take it away. Sometimes a more powerful man will openly assault his kraal, but stratagem is more frequently employed than open violence, and there are in every tribe certain old and crafty cattle-stealers, who have survived the varied dangers of such a life, and who know every ruse that can be employed.

There is a story of one of these men, named Dutulu, who seems to have been a kind of Kaffir Rob Roy. He always employed a mixture of artifice and force. He used to set off for the kraal which he intended to rob, and, in the dead of night, contrived to place some of his assistants by the entrance of the huts. Another assistant then quietly removed the cattle from the isi-baya, while he directed the operations. Dutulu then caused an alarm to be made, and as the inmates crept out to see what was the matter, they were speared by the sentinels at the entrance. Not one was spared. The men were killed lest they should resist, and the women lest they should give the alarm. Even when he had carried off the cattle, his anxieties were not at an end, for cattle cannot be moved very fast, and they are not easily concealed. But Dutulu was a man not to be baffled, and he almost invariably succeeded in reaching home with his spoil. He never, in the first instance, allowed the cattle to be driven in the direction which he intended to take. He used to have them driven repeatedly over the same spot, so as to mix the tracks and bewilder the men who were sure to follow. More than once he baffled pursuit by taking his stolen herd back again, and keeping it in the immediate neighborhood of the desolated kraal, calculating rightly that the pursuers would follow him in the direction of his own home.

The man’s cunning and audacity were boundless. On one occasion, his own kraal was attacked, but Dutulu was far too clever to fall into the trap which he had so often set for others. Instead of crawling out of his hut and getting himself speared, he rolled up his leather mantle, and pushed it through the door. As he had anticipated, it was mistaken in the semi-darkness for a man, and was instantly pierced with a spear. While the weapon was still entangled in the kaross, Dutulu darted from his hut, sprang to the entrance of his isi-baya fully armed, and drove off the outwitted assailants. Even in his old age his audacity did not desert him, and he actually determined on stealing a herd of cattle in the day-time. No one dared to join him, but he determined on carrying out his desperate intention single-handed. He succeeded in driving the herd to some distance, but was discovered, pursued, and surrounded by the enemy. Although one against many, he fought his foes bravely, and, although severely wounded, succeeded in escaping into the bush, where they dared not follow him.

Undeterred by this adventure, he had no sooner recovered than he planned another cattle-stealing expedition. His chief dissuaded him from the undertaking, urging that he had quite enough cattle, that he had been seriously wounded, and that he was becoming too old. The ruling passion was, however, too strong to be resisted, and Dutulu attacked a kraal on his old plan, letting the cattle be driven in one direction, killing as many enemies as he could, and then running off on the opposite side to that which had been taken by the cattle, so as to decoy his pursuers in a wrong direction. However, his advanced years, and perhaps his recent wounds, had impaired his speed, and as there was no bush at hand, he dashed into a morass, and crouched beneath the water. His enemies dared not follow him, but surrounded the spot, and hurled their assagais at him. They did him no harm, because he protected his head with his shield, but he could not endure the long immersion. So, finding that his strength was failing, he suddenly left the morass, and dashed at his enemies, hoping that he might force his way through them. He did succeed in killing several of them, and in passing their line, but he could not run fast enough to escape, and was overtaken and killed.

So, knowing that men of a similar character are hankering after his herd, their dusky owner is only too glad to have a number of young men who will guard his cattle from such cunning enemies.

The love that a Kaffir has for his cattle induces him to ornament them in various ways, some of which must entail no little suffering upon them. To this, however, he is quite indifferent, often causing frightful tortures to the animals which he loves, not from the least desire of hurting them, but[70] from the utter unconcern as to inflicting pain which is characteristic of the savage, in whatever part of the earth he may be. He trims the ears of the cows into all kinds of odd shapes, one of the favorite patterns being that of a leaf with deeply serrated edges. He gathers up bunches of the skin, generally upon the head, ties string tightly round them, and so forms a series of projecting knots of various sizes and shapes. He cuts strips of hide from various parts of the body, especially the head and face, and lets them hang down as lappets. He cuts the dewlap and makes fringes of it, and all without the least notion that he is causing the poor animal to suffer tortures.

But, in some parts of the country, he lavishes his powers on the horns. Among us the horn does not seem capable of much modification, but a Kaffir, skilful in his art, can never be content to leave the horns as they are. He will cause one horn to project forward and another backward, and he will train one to grow upright, and the other pointing to the ground. Sometimes he observes a kind of symmetry, and has both horns bent with their points nearly touching the shoulders, or trains them so that their tips meet above, and they form an arch over their head. Now and then an ox is seen in which a most singular effect has been produced. As the horns of the young ox sprout they are trained over the forehead until the points meet. They are then manipulated so as to make them coalesce, and so shoot upward from the middle of the forehead, like the horn of the fabled unicorn.

Le Vaillant mentions this curious mode of decorating the cattle, and carefully describes the process by which it is performed. “I had not yet taken a near view of the horned cattle which they brought with them, because at break of day they strayed to the thickets and pastures, and were not brought back by their keepers until the evening. One day, however, having repaired to their kraal very early, I was much surprised when I first beheld one of these animals. I scarcely knew them to be oxen and cows, not only on account of their being much smaller than ours, since I observed in them the same form and the same fundamental character, in which I could not be deceived, but on account of the multiplicity of their horns, and the variety of their different twistings. They had a great resemblance to those marine productions known by naturalists under the name of stag’s horns. Being at this time persuaded that these concretions, of which I had no idea, were a peculiar present of nature, I considered the Kaffir oxen as a variety of the species, but I was undeceived by my guide, who informed me that this singularity was only the effect of their invention and taste; and that, by means of a process with which they were well acquainted, they could not only multiply these horns, but also give them any form that their imaginations might suggest. Having offered to exhibit their skill in my presence, if I had any desire of learning their method, it appeared to me so new and uncommon, that I was willing to secure an opportunity, and for several days I attended a regular course of lessons on this subject.

“They take the animal at as tender an age as possible, and when the horns begin to appear they make a small vertical incision in them with a saw, or any other instrument that may be substituted for it, and divide them into two parts. This division makes the horns, yet tender, separate of themselves, so that in time the animal has four very distinct ones. If they wish to have six, or even more, similar notches made with the saw produce as many as may be required. But if they are desirous of forcing one of these divisions in the whole horn to form, for example, a complete circle, they cut away from the point, which must not be hurt, a small part of its thickness, and this amputation, often renewed, and with much patience, makes the horn bend in a contrary direction, and, the point meeting the root, it exhibits the appearance of a perfect circle. As it is certain that incision always causes a greater or less degree of bending, it may be readily conceived that every variation that caprice can imagine may be produced by this simple method. In short, one must be born a Kaffir, and have his taste and patience, to submit to that minute care and unwearied attention required for this operation, which in Kaffirland can only be useless, but in other climates would be hurtful. For the horn, thus disfigured, would become weak, whereas, when preserved strong and entire, it keeps at a distance the famished bears and wolves of Europe.” The reader must remember that the words refer to France, and that the date of Le Vaillant’s travels was 1780-85.

The same traveller mentions an ingenious method employed by the Kaffirs when a cow is bad-tempered, and will not give her milk freely. A rope is tied to one of the hind feet, and a man hauls the foot off the ground by means of the rope. The cow cannot run away on account of the man who is holding her nose, and the pain caused by the violent dragging of her foot backward, together with the constrained attitude of standing on three legs, soon subdues the most refractory animal.

Before proceeding to another chapter, it will be well to explain the illustration on page 57, called “The Kaffirs at Home.”

The spectator is supposed to be just inside the outer enclosure, and nearly opposite to the isi-baya, in which some cattle are seen. In the centre of the plate a milking scene is shown. The cow, being a restive one, is being held by the “man,” by means of a[71] stick passed through its nostrils, and by means of the contrast between the man and the animal the small size of the latter is well shown. A Kaffir ox averages only four hundred pounds in weight. Beneath the cow is seen the milker, holding between his knees the curiously shaped milkpail. On the right hand is seen another Kaffir emptying a pailful of milk into one of the baskets which are used as stores for this article. The reader will notice that the orifice of the basket is very small, and so would cause a considerable amount of milk to be spilt, if it were poured from the wide mouth of the pail. The Kaffir has no funnel, so he extemporizes one by holding his hands over the mouth of the pail, and placing his thumbs so as to cause the milk to flow in a narrow stream between them.

A woman is seen in the foreground, going out to labor in the fields, with her child slung at her back, and her heavy hoe on her shoulder. In order to show the ordinary size of the huts a young Kaffir is shown standing near one of them, while a “man” is seated against it, and engaged alternately in his pipe and conversation. Three shield sticks are seen in the fence of the isi-baya, and the strip of skin suspended to the pole shows that the chief man of the kraal is in residence. In front are several of the odd-shaped Cape sheep, with their long legs and thick tails, in which the whole fat of the body seems to concentrate itself. Two of the characteristic trees of the country are shown, namely, an euphorbia standing within the fence, and an acacia in the background. This last mentioned tree is sometimes called Kameel-dorn, or Camel-thorn, because the giraffe, which the Dutch colonists will call a camel, feeds upon its leaves. In the distance are two of those table-topped mountains which are so characteristic of Southern Africa.

The Kaffir uses his cattle for various purposes. Whenever he can afford such a luxury, which is very seldom, he feasts upon its flesh, and contrives to consume a quantity that seems almost too much for human digestion to undertake. But the chief diet is the milk of the cows, generally mixed with meal, so as to form a kind of porridge. The milk is never eaten in its fresh state, the Kaffirs thinking it to be very indigestible. Indeed, they look upon fresh milk much as a beer-drinker looks upon sweet-wort, and have an equal objection to drinking the liquid in its crude state. When a cow has been milked, the Kaffir empties the pail into a large store basket, such as is seen on the right-hand of the engraving “Kaffirs at Home,” page 57. This basket already contains milk in the second stage, and is never completely emptied. Soon after the milk has been placed in the basket, a sort of fermentation takes place, and in a short time the whole of the liquid is converted into a semi-solid mass, and a watery fluid something like whey. The latter is drawn off, and used as a drink, or given to the children; and the remainder is a thick, clotted substance, about the consistency of Devonshire cream.

This is called “amasi,” and is the staff of life to a Kaffir. Europeans who have lived in Kaffirland generally dislike amasi exceedingly at first, but soon come to prefer it to milk in any other form. Some persons have compared the amasi to curds after the whey has been drawn off; but this is not a fair comparison. The amasi is not in lumps or in curd, but a thick, creamy mass, more like our clotted cream than any other substance. It has a slightly acid flavor. Children, whether black or white, are always very fond of amasi, and there can be no better food for them. Should the Kaffir be obliged to use a new vessel for the purpose of making this clotted milk, he always takes some amasi ready prepared, and places it in the vessel together with the fresh milk, where it acts like yeast in liquid fermentation, and soon reduces the entire mass to its own consistency.

The oxen are also used for riding purposes, and as beasts of burden. Europeans employ them largely as draught oxen, and use a great number to draw a single wagon; but the wagon is an European invention, and therefore without the scope of the present work. The native contrives to ride the oxen without the use of a saddle, balancing himself ingeniously on the sharply ridged back, and guiding his horned steed by means of a stick through its nostrils, with a cord tied to each end of it. He is not at all a graceful rider, but jogs along with his arms extended, and his elbows jerking up and down with every movement of the beast. Still, the ox answers his purpose; and, as it never goes beyond a walking pace, no great harm is done by a fall.

Since the introduction of horses, the Kaffirs have taken a great liking to them, and have proved themselves capable of being good horsemen, after their fashion. This fashion is, always to ride at full gallop; for they can see no object in mounting a swift animal if its speed is not to be brought into operation. It is a very picturesque sight when a party of mounted Kaffirs come dashing along, their horses at full speed, their shields and spears in their hands, and their karosses flying behind them as they ride. When they have occasion to stop, they pull up suddenly, and are off their horses in a moment.

However the Kaffir may be satisfied with the bare back of the ox, the European cannot manage to retain his seat. In the first place, the sharp spine of the ox does not form a very pleasant seat; and in the next place, its skin is so loose that it is impossible for the rider to retain his place by any[72] grasp of the legs. A few cloths or hides are therefore placed on the animal’s back, and a long “reim,” or leathern rope, is passed several times round its body, being drawn tightly by a couple of men, one at each side. By this operation the skin is braced up tight, and a saddle can be fixed nearly as firmly as on a horse. Even under these circumstances, the movements of the ox are very unpleasant to an European equestrian, and, although not so fatiguing as those of a camel, require a tolerable course of practice before they become agreeable.

This custom of tightly girthing is not confined to those animals which are used for the saddle, but is also practised on those that are used as pack-oxen; the loose skin rendering the packages liable to slip off the animal’s back. The whole process of girthing the ox is a very curious one. A sturdy Kaffir stands at each side, while another holds the ox firmly by a stick passed through its nostrils. The skins or cloths are then laid on the back of the ox, and the long rope thrown over them. One man retains his hold of one end, while the other passes the rope round the animal’s body. Each man takes firm hold of the rope, puts one foot against the ox’s side, by way of a fulcrum, and then hauls away with the full force of his body. Holding his own part of the rope tightly with one hand, the second Kaffir dexterously throws the end under the animal to his comrade, who catches it, and passes it over the back, when it is seized as before. Another hauling-match now takes place, and the process goes on until the cord is exhausted, and the diameter of the ox notably diminished. In spite of the enormous pressure to which it is subject, the beast seems to care little about it, and walks away as if unconcerned. If the journey is a long one, the ropes are generally tightened once or twice, the native drivers seeming to take a strange pleasure in the operation.

The illustration No. 1, on page 73, shows the manner in which the Kaffir employs the ox for riding and pack purposes. A chief is returning with his triumphant soldiers from a successful expedition against an enemy’s kraal, which they have “eaten up,” as their saying is. In the foreground is seen the chief, fat and pursy, dressed in the full paraphernalia of war, and seated on an ox. A hornless ox is generally chosen for the saddle, in order to avoid the danger of the rider falling forward and wounding himself; but sometimes the Kaffir qualifies an ox for saddle purposes by forcing the horns to grow downward, and in many instances contrives to make the horns flap about quite loosely, as if they were only suspended by thongs from the animal’s head. The soldiers are seen in charge of other oxen, laden with the spoils of the captured kraal, to which they have set fire; and in the middle distance, a couple of men are reloading a refractory ox, and drawing the rope tightly round it, to prevent it from shaking off its load a second time.


(See page 70.)

(See page 72.)




Contrary to general opinion, marriage is quite as important a matter among the Kaffirs as with ourselves, and even though the men who can afford it do not content themselves with one wife, there is as much ceremony in the last marriage as in the first. As to the number of wives, no law on that subject is found in the minute, though necessarily traditional, code of laws, by which the Kaffirs regulate their domestic polity. A man may take just as many wives as he can afford, and the richer a man is, the more wives he has as a general rule. An ordinary man has generally to be content with one, while those of higher rank have the number of wives dependent on their wealth and position. Goza, for example, whose portrait is given on page 117 and who is a powerful chief, has a dozen or two of wives. There is now before me a photograph representing a whole row of his wives, all sitting on their heels, in the attitude adopted by Kaffir women, and all looking rather surprised at the photographer’s operations. In our sense of the word, none of them have the least pretence to beauty, whatever may have been the case when they were young girls, but it is evident that their joint husband was satisfied with their charms, or they would not retain a position in his household.

As to the king, the number of his wives is illimitable. Parents come humbly before him, and offer their daughters to him, only too proud if he will accept them, and asking no payment for them. The reverence for authority must be very strong in a Kaffir’s breast, if it can induce him to forego any kind of payment whatever, especially as that payment is in cattle. The king has perhaps twenty or thirty large kraals in different parts of the country, and in each of them he has a considerable number of wives, so that he is always at home whenever he changes his residence from one kraal to another. In fact, he never knows, within fifty or so, how many wives he has, nor would he know all his wives by sight, and in consequence he is obliged to keep a most jealous watch over his household, lest a neglected wife should escape and take a husband, who, although a plebeian, would be her own choice. In consequence of this feeling, none of the inhabitants of the royal harem ever leave their house without a strong guard at hand, besides a number of spies, who conceal themselves in unsuspected places, and who would report to the king the slightest indiscretion on the part of any of his wives. It is not even safe for a Kaffir to speak to one of these closely guarded beauties, for, even if no guards are openly in sight, a spy is sure to be concealed at no great distance, and the consequence of such an indiscretion would be, that the woman would certainly lose her[76] life, and the man probably be a fellow sufferer.

That able and sanguinary chief Tchaka formed an exception to the ordinary rule. He would accept as many dark maidens as might be offered to him, but he would not raise one of them to the rank of wife. The reason for this line of conduct was his horror of seeing a successor to his throne. A Kaffir of rank always seems to think that he himself is exempt from the ordinary lot of humanity, and will never speak of the possibility of his own death, nor allow any one else to do so. In a dependent, such a piece of bad breeding would be looked upon as an overt act of treachery, and the thoughtless delinquent would instantly lose the power of repeating the offence by forfeiting his life. Even in an European, the offence would be a very grave one, and would jar gratingly on the feelings of all who heard the ill-omened words. This disinclination to speak of death sometimes shows itself very curiously. On one occasion, an Englishman went to pay a visit to Panda, after the contradiction of a report of that monarch’s death. After the preliminary greetings, he expressed his pleasure at seeing the chief so well, especially after the report of his death. The word “death” seemed to strike the king and all the court like an electric shock, and an ominous silence reigned around. At last Panda recovered himself, and, with a voice that betrayed his emotion, said that such subjects were never spoken of, and then adroitly changed the conversation.

Now, the idea of a successor implies the death of the present occupant of the throne, and therefore Tchaka refused to marry any wives, from whom his successor might be born. More than that, if any of the inmates of his harem showed signs that the population was likely to be increased, they were sure to be arrested on some trivial pretence, dragged out of their homes, and summarily executed. We may feel disposed to wonder that such a heartless monster could by any means have found any inmates of his harem. But we must remember that of all men a Kaffir chief is the most despotic, having absolute power over any of his subjects, and his orders being obeyed with an instantaneous obedience, no matter how revolting they might be. Parents would kill their children and children their parents at his command; and so strange a hold has obedience to the king upon the mind of a Kaffir, that men have been known to thank him and utter his praises while being beaten to death by his orders.

Therefore the parents of these ill-fated girls had no option in the matter. If he wanted them he would take them, probably murdering their parents, and adding their cattle to his own vast herds. By voluntarily offering them they might possibly gain his good graces, and there might be a chance that they would escape the fate that had befallen so many of their predecessors in the royal favor. These strange effects of despotism are by no means confined to Southern Africa, but are found among more civilized people than the Kaffirs. We all remember the opening story of the “Arabian Nights,” which furnishes the thread on which all the stories are strung. How a king found that his wife was unworthy of her position, and how he immediately rushed to the conclusion that such unworthiness was not the fault of an individual, but a quality inherent in the sex. How he reduced his principle to practice by marrying a new wife every evening, and cutting off her head next morning, until his purpose was arrested by the ingenious narrator of the tales, who originated the practice now prevalent in periodicals, namely, always leaving off unexpectedly in an interesting part of the story.

This extraordinary proceeding on the part of an Oriental monarch is told with a perfect absence of comment, and neither the narrator nor the hearer displays any signs that such a line of conduct was strange, or even culpable. The subjects who were called upon to supply such a succession of wives certainly grumbled, but they continued to supply them, and evidently had no idea that their monarch’s orders could be disobeyed.

The effect of polygamy among the wives themselves is rather curious. In the first place, they are accustomed to the idea, and have never been led to expect that they would bear sole rule in the house. Indeed, none of them would entertain such an idea, because the very fact that a man possessed only one wife would derogate from his dignity, and consequently from her own. There is another reason for the institution of polygamy, namely, the division of labor. Like all savages, the Kaffir man never condescends to perform manual labor, all real work falling to the lot of the women. As to any work that requires bodily exertion, the Kaffir never dreams of undertaking it. He would not even lift a basket of rice on the head of his favorite wife, but would sit on the ground and allow some woman to do it. One of my friends, when rather new to Kaffirland, happened to look into a hut, and there saw a stalwart Kaffir sitting and smoking his pipe, while the women were hard at work in the sun, building huts, carrying timber, and performing all kinds of severe labor. Struck with a natural indignation at such behavior, he told the smoker to get up and work like a man. This idea was too much even for the native politeness of the Kaffir, who burst into a laugh at so absurd a notion. “Women work,” said he, “men sit in the house and smoke.”

The whole cares of domestic life fall upon[77] the married woman. Beside doing all the ordinary work of the house, including the building of it, she has to prepare all the food and keep the hungry men supplied. She cannot go to a shop and buy bread. She has to till the ground, to sow the grain, to watch it, to reap it, to thrash it, to grind it, and to bake it. Her husband may perhaps condescend to bring home game that he has killed, though he will not burden himself longer than he can help. But the cooking falls to the woman’s share, and she has not only to stew the meat, but to make the pots in which it is prepared. After a hard day’s labor out of doors, she cannot go home and rest, but is obliged to grind the maize or millet, a work of very great labor, on account of the primitive machinery which is employed—simply one stone upon another, the upper stone being rocked backward and forward with a motion like that of a chemist’s pestle. The Kaffirs never keep flour ready ground, so that this heavy task has to be performed regularly every day. When she has ground the corn she has either to bake it into cakes, or boil it into porridge, and then has the gratification of seeing the men eat it. She also has to make the beer which is so popular among the Kaffirs, but has very little chance of drinking the product of her own industry.

It will be seen, therefore, that the work of a Kaffir wife is about twice as hard as that of an English farm laborer, and that therefore she is rather glad than otherwise when her husband takes another wife, who may divide her labors. Moreover, the first wife has always a sort of preëminence over the others, and retains it unless she forfeits the favor of her husband by some peculiarly flagrant act, in which case she is deposed, and another wife raised to the vacant honor. When such an event takes place, the husband selects any of his wives that he happens to like best, without any regard for seniority, and, as a natural consequence, the youngest has the best chance of becoming the chief wife, thus causing much jealousy among them. Did all the wives live in the same house with their husband, the bickerings would be constant; but, according to Kaffir law, each wife has her own hut, that belonging to the principal wife being on the right hand of the chief’s house.

Sometimes, however, jealousy will prevail, in spite of these preventives, and has been known to lead to fatal results. One case of poisoning has already been mentioned (page 51), and others occur more frequently than is known. One such case was a rather remarkable one. There had been two wives, and a third was afterward added. The other two wives felt themselves injured by her presence, and for a year subjected her to continual persecution. One day, when the husband returned to his house, he found her absent, and asked from the others where she was. They replied that they did not know, and that when they went to fetch firewood, according to daily custom, they had left her in the kraal. Dissatisfied with the answer, he pressed them more closely, and was then told that she had gone off to her father’s house. At the first dawn he set off to the father’s kraal, and found that nothing had been heard of her. His next step was to go to one of the witch doctors, or prophets, and ask him what had become of his favorite wife. The man answered that the two elder wives had murdered her. He set off homeward, but before he reached his kraal, the dead body of the murdered wife had been discovered by a herd boy. The fact was, that she had gone out with the other two wives in the morning to fetch firewood, a quarrel had arisen, and they had hanged her to a tree with the bush-rope used in tying up the bundles of wood.

As to minor assaults on a favorite wife, they are common enough. She will be beaten, or have her face scratched so as to spoil her beauty, or the holes in her ears will be torn violently open. The assailants are sure to suffer in their own turn for their conduct, their husband beating them most cruelly with the first weapon that happens to come to hand. But, in the mean time, the work which they have done has been effected, and they have at all events enjoyed some moments of savage vengeance. Fights often take place among the wives, but if the husband hears the noise of the scuffle he soon puts a stop to it, by seizing a stick, and impartially belaboring each combatant.

The position of a first wife is really one of some consequence. Although she has been bought and paid for by her husband, she is not looked upon as so utter an article of merchandise as her successors. “When a man takes his first wife,” says Mr. Shooter, “all the cows he possesses are regarded as her property. She uses the milk for the support of her family, and, after the birth of her first son, they are called his cattle. Theoretically, the husband can neither sell nor dispose of them without his wife’s consent. If he wish to take a second wife, and require any of these cattle for the purpose, he must obtain her concurrence.”

“When I asked a native how this was to be procured, he said by flattery and coaxing, or if that did not succeed, by bothering her until she yielded, and told him not to do so to-morrow, i. e. for the future. Sometimes she becomes angry, and tells him to take all, for they are not hers, but his. If she comply with her husband’s polygamous desires, and furnish cattle to purchase and indue a new wife, she will be entitled to her services, and will call her my wife. She will also be entitled to the cattle received for a new wife’s eldest daughter. The cattle assigned to the[78] second wife are subject to the same rules, and so on, while fresh wives are taken. Any wife may furnish the cattle necessary to add a new member to the harem, and with the same consequences as resulted to the first wife; but it seems that the queen, as the first is called, can claim the right of refusal.” It will be seen from this account of the relative stations of the different wives, that the position of chief wife is one that would be much prized, and we can therefore understand that the elevation of a new comer to that rank would necessarily create a strong feeling of jealousy in the hearts of the others.

In consequence of the plurality of wives, the law of inheritance is most complicated. Some persons may wonder that a law which seems to belong especially to civilization should be found among savage tribes like the Kaffirs. But it must be remembered that the Kaffir is essentially a man living under authority, and that his logical turn of intellect has caused him to frame a legal code which is singularly minute in all its details, and which enters not only into the affairs of the nation, but into those of private life. The law respecting the rank held by the wives, and the control which they exercise over property, is sufficiently minute to give promise that there would also be a law which regulated the share held in the property of their respective children.

In order to understand the working of this law, the reader must remember two facts which have been mentioned: the one, that the wives do not live in common, but that each has her own house; and moreover, that to each house a certain amount of cattle is attached, in theory, if not in practice. When the headman of a kraal dies, his property is divided among his children by virtue of a law, which, though unwritten, is well known, and is as precise as any similar law in England. If there should be an eldest son, born in the house of the chief wife, he succeeds at once to his father’s property, and inherits his rank. There is a very common Kaffir song, which, though not at all filial, is characteristic. It begins by saying, “My father has died, and I have all his cattle,” and then proceeds to expatiate on the joys of wealth. He does not necessarily inherit all the cattle in the kraal, because there may be sons belonging to other houses; in such cases, the eldest son of each house would be entitled to the cattle which are recognized as the property of that house. Still, he exercises a sort of paternal authority over the whole, and will often succeed in keeping all the family together instead of giving to each son his share of the cattle, and letting them separate in different directions. Such a course of proceeding is the best for all parties, as they possess a strength when united, which they could not hope to attain when separated.

It sometimes happens that the owner of the kraal has no son, and in that case, the property is claimed by his father, brother, or nearest living relative,—always, if possible, by a member of the same house as himself. It sometimes happens that no male relation can be found, and when such a failure takes place, the property goes to the chief, as the acknowledged father of the tribe. As to the women, they very seldom inherit anything, but go with the cattle to the different heirs, and form part of their property. To this general rule there are exceptional cases, but they are very rare. It will be seen, therefore, that every woman has some one who acts as her father, whether her father be living or not, and although the compulsory dependent state of women is not conducive to their dignity, it certainly protects them from many evils. If, for example, a girl were left an orphan, an event which is of very frequent occurrence in countries where little value is placed on human life, she would be placed in a very unpleasant position, for either she would find no husband at all, or she would be fought over by poor and turbulent men who wanted to obtain a wife without paying for her. Kaffir law, however, provides for this difficulty by making the male relations heirs of the property, and, consequently, protectors of the women; so that as long as there is a single male relation living, an orphan girl has a guardian. The law even goes further, and contemplates a case which sometimes exists, namely, that all the male relatives are dead, or that they cannot be identified. Such a case as this may well occur in the course of a war, for the enemy will sometimes swoop down on a kraal, and if their plans be well laid, will kill every male inhabitant. Even if all are not killed, the survivors may be obliged to flee for their lives, and thus it may often happen that a young girl finds herself comparatively alone in the world. In such a case, she would go to another chief of her tribe, or even to the king himself, and ask permission to become one of his dependants, and many instances have been known where such refugees have been received into tribes not their own.

When a girl is received as a dependant, she is treated as a daughter, and if she should happen to fall ill, her guardian would offer sacrifices for her exactly as if she were one of his own daughters. Should a suitor present himself, he will have to treat with the guardian exactly as if he were the father, and to him will be paid the cattle that are demanded at the wedding. Mr. Fynn mentions that the women are very tenacious about their relatives, and that in many cases when they could not identify their real relations, they have made arrangements with strangers to declare relationship with them. It is possible that this feeling arises from the notion that a husband would have more[79] respect for a wife who had relations than for one who had none.

As an example of the curious minuteness with which the Kaffir law goes into the details of domestic polity, it may be mentioned that if a female dependant be married, and should afterward be fortunate enough to discover her real relatives, they may claim the cattle paid for her by the husband. But they must give one of the cows to her protector as payment for her maintenance, and the trouble taken in marrying her. Moreover, if any cattle have been sacrificed on her behalf, these must be restored, together with any others that may have been slaughtered at the marriage-feast. The fact that she is paid for by her husband conveys no idea of degradation to a Kaffir woman. On the contrary, she looks upon the fact as a proof of her own worth, and the more cattle are paid for her, the prouder she becomes. Neither would the husband like to take a wife without paying the proper sum for her, because in the first place it would be a tacit assertion that the wife was worthless, and in the second, it would be an admission that he could not afford to pay the usual price. Moreover, the delivery of the cattle, on the one side, and the delivery of the girl on the other, are considered as constituting the validity of the marriage contract, and are looked upon in much the same light as the giving of a ring by the husband and the giving away of the bride by her father in our own marriage ceremonies.

What that price may be is exceedingly variable, and depends much on the beauty and qualifications of the bride, and the rank of her father. The ordinary price of an unmarried girl is eight or ten cows, while twelve or fifteen are not unfrequently paid, and in some cases the husband has been obliged to give as many as fifty before the father would part with his daughter. Payment ought to be made beforehand by rights, and the man cannot demand his wife until the cattle have been transferred. This rule is, however, frequently relaxed, and the marriage is allowed when a certain instalment has been paid, together with a guarantee that the remainder shall be forthcoming within a reasonable time. All preliminaries having been settled, the next business is for the intending bridegroom to present himself to his future wife. Then, although a certain sum is demanded for a girl, and must be paid before she becomes a wife, it does not follow that she exercises no choice whatever in accepting or rejecting a suitor, as may be seen from the following passages taken from Mr. Shooter’s valuable work on Kaffirland:—

“When a husband has been selected for a girl, she may be delivered to him without any previous notice, and Mr. Fynn acknowledges that in some cases this is done. But usually, he says, she is informed of her parent’s intention a month or some longer time beforehand, in order, I imagine, that she may, if possible, be persuaded to think favorably of the man. Barbarians as they are, the Kaffirs are aware that it is better to reason with a woman than to beat her; and I am inclined to think that moral means are usually employed to induce a girl to adopt her parent’s choice, before physical arguments are resorted to. Sometimes very elaborate efforts are made, as I have been told, to produce this result. The first step is to speak well of the man in her presence; the kraal conspire to praise him—her sisters praise him—all the admirers of his cattle praise him—he was never so praised before. Unless she is very resolute, the girl may now perhaps be prevailed on to see him, and a messenger is despatched to communicate the hopeful fact, and summon him to the kraal. Without loss of time he prepares to show himself to the best advantage; he goes down to the river, and having carefully washed his dark person, comes up again dripping and shining like a dusky Triton; but the sun soon dries his skin, and now he shines again with grease.

“His dancing attire is put on, a vessel of water serving for a mirror; and thus clothed in his best, and carrying shield and assagai, he sets forth, with beating heart and gallant step, to do battle with the scornful belle. Having reached the kraal he is received with a hearty welcome, and squatting down in the family ‘circle’ (which is here something more than a figure of speech), he awaits the lady’s appearance. Presently she comes, and sitting down near the door stares at him in silence. Then having surveyed him sufficiently in his present attitude, she desires him through her brother (for she will not speak to him) to stand up and exhibit his proportions. The modest man is embarrassed; but the mother encourages him, and while the young ones laugh and jeer, he rises before the damsel. She now scrutinizes him in this position, and having balanced the merits and defects of a front view, desires him (through the same medium as before) to turn round and favor her with a different aspect. (See page 97.) At length he receives permission to squat again, when she retires as mute as she came. The family troop rush after her impatient to learn her decision; but she declines to be hasty—she has not seen him walk, and perhaps he limps. So, next morning, the unfortunate man appears in the cattle fold, to exhibit his paces before a larger assembly. A volley of praises is showered upon him by the interested spectators; and perhaps the girl has come to think as they think, and signifies her approval. In this case, arrangements are made for the betrothal.”

This amusing ceremony has two meanings—the[80] first, that the contract of marriage is a voluntary act on both sides; and the second, that the intending bridegroom has as yet no authority over her. This last point seems to be thought of some importance, as it is again brought forward when the marriage ceremony takes place. That the girl has no choice in a husband is evidently not true. There are, of course, instances in Kaffirland, as well as in more civilized countries, where the parents have set their hearts on a particular alliance, and have disregarded the aversion of their daughters, forcing her by hard words and other cruelties to consent to the match. But, as a general rule, although a girl must be bought with a certain number of cows, it does not at all follow that every one with the requisite means may buy her.

A rather amusing proof to the contrary is related by one of our clergy who resided for a long time among the Kaffir tribes. There was one “boy,” long past the prime of life, who had distinguished himself in war, and procured a fair number of cows, and yet could not be ranked as a “man,” because he was not married. The fact was, he was so very ugly that he could not find any of the dusky beauties who would accept him, and so he had to remain a bachelor in spite of himself. At last the king took compassion on him, and authorized him to assume the head-ring, and take brevet rank among the men, or “ama-doda,” just as among ourselves an elderly maiden lady is addressed by courtesy as if she had been married. Sometimes a suitor’s heart misgives him, and he fears that, in spite of his wealth and the costly ornaments with which he adorns his dark person, the lady may not be propitious. In this case he generally goes to a witch doctor and purchases a charm, which he hopes will cause her to relent. The charm is sometimes a root, or a piece of wood, bone, metal, or horn, worn about the person, but it most usually takes the form of a powder. This magic powder is given to some trusty friend, who mixes it surreptitiously in the girl’s food, sprinkles it on her dress, or deposits it in her snuff box, and shakes it up with the legitimate contents.

Not unfrequently, when a suitor is very much disliked, and has not the good sense to withdraw his claims, the girl takes the matter into her own hands by running away, often to another tribe. There is always a great excitement in these cases, and the truant is hunted by all her relations. One of these flights took place when a girl had been promised to the ill-favored bachelor who has just been mentioned. He offered a chief a considerable number of cattle for one of his wards, and paid the sum in advance, hoping so to clench the bargain. But when the damsel found who her husband was to be, she flatly refused to marry so ugly a man. Neither cajolements, threats, nor actual violence had any effect, and at last she was tied up with ropes and handed over to her purchaser. He took her to his home, but in a few hours she contrived to make her escape, and fled for refuge to the kraal of a neighboring chief, where it is to be hoped she found a husband more to her taste. Her former possessor declined to demand her back again, inasmuch as she had been paid for and delivered honorably, and on the same grounds he declined to return the price paid for her. So the unfortunate suitor lost not only his cattle but his wife.

This man was heartily ashamed of his bachelor condition, and always concealed it as much as he could. One day, an Englishman who did not know his history asked him how many wives he had; and, although he knew that the falsehood of his answer must soon be detected, he had not moral courage to say that he was a bachelor, and named a considerable number of imaginary wives.

Now that the English have established themselves in Southern Africa, it is not at all an unusual circumstance for a persecuted girl to take refuge among them, though in many instances she has to be given up to her relations when they come to search for her.

Sometimes the young damsel not only exercises the right of refusal, but contrives to choose a husband for herself. In one such instance a man had fallen into poverty, and been forced to become a dependant. He had two unmarried daughters, and his chief proposed to buy them. The sum which he offered was so small that the father would not accept it, and there was in consequence a violent quarrel between the chief and himself. Moreover, the girls themselves had not the least inclination to become wives of the chief, who already had plenty, and they refused to be purchased, just as their father refused to accept so niggardly a sum for them. The chief was very angry, went off to Panda, and contrived to extort an order from the king that the girls should become the property of the chief at the price which he had fixed. The girls were therefore taken to the kraal, but they would not go into any of the huts, and sat on the ground, much to the annoyance of their new owner, who at last had them carried into a hut by main force. One of the girls, named Uzinto, contrived ingeniously to slip unperceived from the hut at dead of night, and escaped from the kraal by creeping through the fence, lest the dogs should be alarmed if she tried to open the door. In spite of the dangers of night-travelling, she pushed on toward Natal as fast as she could, having nothing with her but the sleeping mat which a Kaffir uses instead of a bed, and which can be rolled up into a cylinder and slung over the shoulders. On her[81] way she met with two adventures, both of which nearly frustrated her plan. At the dawn of the day on which she escaped, she met a party of men, who saw tears in her face, and taxed her with being a fugitive. However, she was so ready with the answer that she had been taking snuff (the Kaffir snuff always makes the eyes water profusely), that they allowed her to proceed on her journey.

The next was a more serious adventure. Having come to the territories of the Amakoba tribe, she went into a kraal for shelter at night, and the inhabitants, who knew the quarrel between her father and the chief, first fed her hospitably, and then tied her hand and foot, and sent off a messenger to the chief from whom she had escaped. She contrived, however, to get out of the kraal, but was captured again by the women. She was so violent with them, and her conduct altogether so strange, that they were afraid of her, and let her go her own way. From that time she avoided all dwellings, and only travelled through the bush, succeeding in fording the Tugela river at the end of the fourth day, thus being out of Panda’s power. Her reason for undertaking this long and perilous journey was twofold; first, that she might escape from a husband whom she did not like, and secondly, that she might obtain a husband whom she did. For in the Natal district was living a young man with whom she had carried on some love-passages, and who, like herself, was a fugitive from his own land. After some difficulty, she was received as a dependant of a chief, and was straightway asked in marriage by two young men. She would have nothing to say to them, but contrived to find out her former lover. Then followed an absurd series of scenes, too long to be narrated in detail.

First the young man was rather cool toward her, and so she went off in a huff, and would not speak to him. Then he went after her, but was only repulsed for his pains. Then they met while the chief’s corn was being planted, and made up the quarrel, but were espied by the chief, and both soundly beaten for idling instead of working. Then he fell ill, and she went to see him, but would not speak a word. Then he got well, and they had another quarrel, which was unexpectedly terminated by Uzinto insisting on being married. The young man objected that he did not know how many cows the chief would want for her, and that he had not enough to pay for a wife. She was equal to the occasion, however, fixed her own value at ten cows, and ordered him to work hard until he had earned them. Meanwhile her protector had made up his mind to take her for his own wife, thinking it a good opportunity to gain another wife without paying for her. Uzinto, however, had not gone through so much to lose the husband on whom she had set her heart, and she went to the young man’s kraal, appeared before the headman, and demanded to be instantly betrothed. He naturally feared the anger of the chief, and sent her back again to his kraal, where, with tears, sulking fits, anger fits, and threats of suicide, she worried all the inmates so completely, that they yielded the point for the sake of peace and quietness, accepted four cows from the lover as an instalment of the required ten, and so married her to him at last.

There is another instance, where a girl fell ardently in love with a young Kaffir chief, as he was displaying his agility in a dance. He did not even know her, and was rather surprised when she presented herself at his kraal, and avowed the state of her affections. He, however, did not return them, and as the girl refused to leave his kraal, he was obliged to send for her brother, who removed her by force. She soon made her way back again, and this time was severely beaten for her pertinacity. The stripes had no effect upon her; and in less than a week she again presented herself. Finding that his sister was so determined, the brother suggested that the too-fascinating chief had better marry the girl, and so end the dispute; and the result was that at last the lady gained her point, the needful cows were duly paid to the brother, and the marriage took place.

Even after marriage, there are many instances where the wife has happened to possess an intellect far superior to that of her husband, and where she has gained a thorough ascendancy over him, guiding him in all his transactions, whether of peace or war. And it is only just to say that in these rare instances of feminine supremacy, the husband has submitted to his wife’s guidance through a conviction that it was exercised judiciously, and not through any weakness of character on his own part, or ill-temper on hers.




When the marriage-day is fixed, a ceremonial takes place, differing in detail according to the wealth of the parties, but similar in all the principal points. The bride, decked in all the beads and other finery that she can muster, proceeds in a grand procession to the kraal of her future husband. Her head is shaved with an assagai before she starts, the little tuft of hair on the top of her bare pate is rubbed with red paint, and dressed with various appliances, until it stands on end, and the odd little tuft looks as much as possible like a red shaving brush, with very short, diverging bristles. She is escorted by all her young friends, and is accompanied by her mother and many other married women of the tribe, all bedizened to the utmost. Her male relatives and friends make a point of joining the procession, also dressed in their best, but each bearing his shield and a bundle of assagais, so as to guard the bride against enemies. She then seats herself, surrounded by her companions, outside the kraal.

About this period of the ceremony there is generally a considerable amount of by-play respecting certain oxen, which have to be given by the bridegroom and the father of the bride. The former is called the “Ukutu” ox, which is given to the mother of the bride by the bridegroom. The word “Ukutu” literally signifies the leathern thongs which are hung about the bodies of children by way of charms, and the present of the ox to the mother is made in order to reimburse her for the expenditure in thongs during her daughter’s childhood. The mother does not keep the ox, but slaughters it and dresses it for the marriage feast, and by the time that the wedding has been fairly begun, the Ukutu ox is ready for the guests.

Another ox, called by the curious name of “Umquoliswa,” is given by the bridegroom to the girl’s father, and about this there is much ceremony, as is narrated by Mr. Shooter. “The day having considerably advanced, the male friends of the bride go to the bridegroom’s kraal to claim the ox called Umquoliswa. In a case which I witnessed, they proceeded in a long file, with a step difficult to describe, being a sort of slow and measured stamping, an imitation of their dancing movement. Wearing the dress and ornaments previously mentioned as appropriated to occasions of festivity, they brandished shields and sticks, the usual accompaniment of a wedding dance; while their tongues were occupied with a monotonous and unsentimental chant—

“‘Give us the Umquoliswa,
We desire the Umquoliswa.’


(See page 82.)


“In this way they entered the kraal, and, turning to the right, reached the principal hut. The father of the girl now called upon the bridegroom, who was inside, to come forth and give them the Umquoliswa. The latter replied that he had no ox to present to them. He was then assured that the bride would be taken home; but he remained invisible until other members of the party had required him to appear. Having left the house, he hurried to the gateway, and attempted to pass it. His exit, however, was barred by a company of women already in possession of the entrance, while a smile on his face showed that his efforts to escape were merely formal, and that he was going through an amusing ceremony. The Umquoliswa was now fetched from the herd, and given to the bride’s party, who were bivouacking under the lee of a clump of bush. Her sisters affected to despise it as a paltry thing, and bade the owner produce a better. He told them that it was the largest and the fattest that he could procure; but they were not satisfied—they would not eat it. Presently, the father put an end to their noisy by-play, and accepted the beast. The bride then ran toward the kraal, and after a while the dances commenced.”

The dances are carried on with the violent, and almost furious energy that seems to take possession of a Kaffir’s soul when engaged in the dance, the arms flourishing sticks, shields, and spears, while the legs are performing marvellous feats of activity. First, the bridegroom and his companions seat themselves in the cattle pen, and refresh themselves copiously with beer, while the party of the bride dances before him. The process is then reversed, the bride sitting down, and her husband’s party dancing before her. Songs on both sides accompany the dance.

The girl is addressed by the matrons belonging to the bridegroom’s party, who depreciate her as much as possible, telling her that her husband has given too many cows for her, that she will never be able to do a married woman’s work, that she is rather plain than otherwise, and that her marriage to the bridegroom is a wonderful instance of condescension on his part. This cheerful address is intended to prevent her from being too much elated by her translation from the comparative nonentity of girlhood to the honorable post of a Zulu matron.

Perfect equity, however, reigns; and when the bride’s party begin to dance and sing, they make the most of their opportunity. Addressing the parents, they congratulate them on the possession of such a daughter, but rather condole with them on the very inadequate number of cows which the bridegroom has paid. They tell the bride that she is the most lovely girl in the tribe, that her conduct has been absolute perfection, that the husband is quite[85] unworthy of her, and ought to be ashamed of himself for making such a hard bargain with her father. Of course neither party believes a word that is said, but everything in Kaffirland must be conducted with the strictest etiquette.

After each dance, the leader—usually the father—addresses a speech to the contracted couple; and, if the bridegroom be taking a wife for the first time, the quantity of good advice that is heaped upon him by the more experienced would be very useful if he were likely to pay any attention to it. He is told that, being a bachelor, he cannot know how to manage a wife, and is advised not to make too frequent use of the stick, by way of gaining obedience. Men, he is told, can manage any number of wives without using personal violence; but boys are apt to be too hasty with their hands. The husband of Uzinto, whose adventures have already been related, made a curious stipulation when thus addressed, and promised not to beat her if she did not beat him. Considering the exceedingly energetic character of the girl, this was rather a wise condition to make.

All these preliminaries being settled, the bridegroom seats himself on the ground while the bride dances before him. While so doing, she takes the opportunity of calling him by opprobrious epithets, kicks dust in his face, disarranges his elegant headdress, and takes similar liberties by way of letting him know that he is not her master yet. After she is married she will take no such liberties.

Then another ox comes on the scene, the last, and most important of all. This is called the Ox of the Girl, and has to be presented by the bridegroom.

It must here be mentioned that, although the bridegroom seems to be taxed rather heavily for the privilege of possessing a wife, the tax is more apparent than real. In the first place, he considers that all these oxen form part of the price which he pays for the wife in question, and looks upon them much in the same light that householders regard the various taxes that the occupier of a house has to pay—namely, a recognized addition to the sum demanded for the property. The Kaffir husband considers his wife as much a portion of his property as his spear or his kaross, and will sometimes state the point very plainly.

When a missionary was trying to remonstrate with a Kaffir for throwing all the hard work upon his wife and doing nothing at all himself, he answered that she was nothing more or less than his ox, bought and paid for, and must expect to be worked accordingly. His interlocutor endeavored to strengthen his position by mentioning the manner in which Europeans treated their wives, but met with little success in his argument. The Kaffir’s reply was[86] simple enough, and perfectly unanswerable. “White men do not buy their wives, and the two cases are not parallel.” In fact, a Kaffir husband’s idea of a wife does not differ very far from that of Petruchio, although the latter did happen to be an European—

“I will be master of what is mine own;
She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.”

And the Kaffir wife’s idea of a husband is practically that of the tamed Katherine—

“Thy husband is thy lord, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign”—

though she could by no manner of means finish the speech with truth, and say that he labors for her while she abides at home at ease, and asks no other tribute but obedience and love. The former portion of that tribute is exacted; the latter is not so rare as the circumstances seem to denote.

The sums which a Kaffir pays for his wife he considers as property invested by himself, and expected to return a good interest in the long run, and, as has already been mentioned, there are often circumstances under which he takes credit for the amount, and expects to be repaid. So, although a bridegroom is obliged to part with certain cattle on the occasion of his wedding, he keeps a very accurate mental account of them, and is sure to repay himself in one way or another.

After the Ox of the Girl has been furnished, it is solemnly slaughtered, and this constitutes the binding portion of the marriage. Up to that time the father or owner of the girl might take her back again, of course returning the cattle that had been paid for her, as well as those which had been presented and slaughtered. Our heroine, Uzinto, afforded an example of this kind. The bridegroom had a natural antipathy to the chief, who had tried to marry the lady by force, and showed his feelings by sending the very smallest and thinnest ox that could be found. The chief remonstrated at this insult, and wanted to annul the whole transaction. In this he might have succeeded, but for a curious coincidence. The father of the bride had finally quarrelled with his chief, and had been forced to follow the example of his daughter and her intended husband, and to take refuge in Natal. Just at the wedding he unexpectedly made his appearance, and found himself suddenly on the way to wealth. His daughter was actually being married to a man who had engaged to pay ten cows for her. So he did not trouble himself in the least about the size of the ox that was to be slaughtered, but accepted the animal, and accordingly became owner of the cows in question, minus those which had to be paid as honorary gifts to the disappointed chief and the successful lover.

After the ceremonies are over, the husband takes his wife home, the character of that home being dependent on his rank and wealth. But when the couple have fairly taken up their abode, the father or previous owner of the wife always sends one ox to her husband. This ox is called the Ox of the Surplus, and represents several ideas. In the first place it is supposed to imply that the girl’s value very far exceeds that of any number of oxen which can be given for her, and is intended to let the bridegroom know that he is not to think too much of himself. Next, it is an admission on the father’s side that he is satisfied with the transaction, and that when he dies he will not avenge himself by haunting his daughter’s household, and so causing the husband to be disappointed in his wishes for a large family of boys and girls, the first to be warriors and extend the power of his house, and the second to be sold for many cows and increase his wealth. So curiously elaborate are the customs of the Kaffirs, that when this Ox of the Surplus enters the kraal of the husband it is called by another name, and is then entitled “The Ox that opens the Cattle-fold.” The theory of this name is, that the husband has paid for his wife all his oxen, and that in consequence the cattle-fold is empty. But the ox that she brings with her reopens the gate of the fold, and is looked upon as an earnest of the herds that are to be purchased with the daughters which she may have in the course of her married life. These curious customs strongly remind us of the old adage respecting the counting of chickens before they are hatched, but the Kaffir seems to perform that premature calculation in more ways than one.

The reader will understand that these minute and complicated ceremonies are not always observed in precisely the same manner. In many cases, especially when the Kaffirs have lived for any length of time under the protection of white men, there is very little, if any ceremony; the chief rites being the arrangement with the girl’s owner or father, the delivery of the cattle, and the transfer of the purchased girl to the kraal of her husband. Moreover, it is very difficult for white men to be present at Kaffir ceremonies, and in many cases the Kaffirs will pretend that there is no ceremony at all, in order to put their interrogators off the track. The foregoing account is, however, a tolerably full description of the ceremonies that are, or have been, practised by the great Zulu tribe.

A marriage thus made is considered quite as binding as any ceremony among ourselves, and the Kaffir may not put away his[87] wife except for causes that are considered valid by the councillors of the tribe. Infidelity is, of course, punished by instant dismissal of the unfaithful wife, if not by her death, the latter fate invariably befalling the erring wife of a chief. As for the other culprit, the aggrieved husband has him at his mercy, and sometimes puts him to death, but sometimes commutes that punishment for a heavy fine. Constant and systematic disobedience is also accepted as a valid cause of divorce, and so is incorrigible idleness. The process of reasoning is, that the husband has bought the woman in order to perform certain tasks for him. If she refuses to perform them through disobedience, or omits to perform them through idleness, it is clear that he has paid his money for a worthless article, and is therefore entitled to return her on the hands of the vendor, and to receive back a fair proportion of the sum which he has paid. Sometimes she thinks herself ill treated, and betakes herself to the kraal of her father. In this case, the father can keep her by paying back the cattle which he has received for her; and if there should be any children, the husband retains them as hostages until the cattle have been delivered. He then transfers them to the mother, to whom they rightly belong.

Another valid cause of divorce is the misfortune of a wife being childless. The husband expects that she shall be a fruitful wife, and that his children will add to his power and wealth; and if she does not fulfil this expectation, he is entitled to a divorce. Generally, he sends the wife to the kraal of her father, who propitiates the spirits of her ancestors by the sacrifice of an ox, and begs them to remove the cause of divorce. She then goes back to her husband, but if she should still continue childless, she is sent back to her father, who is bound to return the cattle which he has received for her. Sometimes, however, a modification of this system is employed, and the father gives, in addition to the wife, one of her unmarried sisters, who, it is hoped, may better fulfil the wishes of the husband. The father would rather follow this plan than consent to a divorce, because he then retains the cattle, and to give up a single ox causes pangs of sorrow in a Kaffir’s breast. Should the sister become a fruitful wife, one or two of the children are transferred to the former wife, and ever afterward considered as belonging to her house.

All these details remind the observer of similar details in the Mosaic law of marriage, and, in point of fact, the social condition of the Kaffir of the present day is not very different from that of the Israelite when the Law was first promulgated through the great legislator. Many of the customs are identical, and in others there is a similitude that is almost startling. But, as far as the facility of divorce goes, the Kaffir certainly seems to look upon marriage, even though he may have an unlimited number of wives, with more reverence than did the ancient Israelite, and he would not think of divorcing a wife through a mere caprice of the moment, as was sanctioned by the traditions of the Jews, though not by their divinely given law.

Still, though he does not, as a general rule, think himself justified in such arbitrary divorces, he considers himself gifted with an irresponsible authority over his wives, even to the power of life and death. If, for example, a husband in a fit of passion were to kill his wife—a circumstance that has frequently occurred—no one has any business to interfere in the matter, for, according to his view of the case, she is his property, bought, and paid for, and he has just as much right to kill her as if she were one of his goats or oxen. Her father cannot proceed against the murderer, for he has no further right in his daughter, having sold her and received the stipulated price. The man has, in fact, destroyed valuable property of his own—property which might be sold for cows, and which was expected to work for him, and produce offspring exchangeable for cows. It is thought, therefore, that if he chooses to inflict upon himself so severe a loss, no one has any more right to interfere with him than if he were to kill a number of oxen in a fit of passion. Sometimes, however, the chief has been known to take such a matter in hand, and to fine the delinquent in a cow or two for destroying a valuable piece of property, which, though his own, formed a unit in the strength of the tribe, and over which he, as the acknowledged father of the tribe, had a jurisdiction. But, even in such rare instances, his interference, although it would be made ostensibly for the sake of justice, would in reality be an easy mode of adding to his own wealth by confiscating the cattle which he demanded as a fine from the culprit.

Between married persons and their relatives a very singular code of etiquette prevails. In the first place, a man is not allowed to marry any one to whom he is related by blood. He may marry two or more sisters, provided that they come from a different family from his own, but he may not take a wife who descended from his own immediate ancestors. But, like the ancient Hebrews, a man may not only marry the wife of a deceased brother, but considers himself bound to do so in justice to the woman, and to the children of his brother, who then become to all intents and purposes his own.

The peculiar etiquette which has been mentioned lies in the social conduct of[88] those who are related to each other by marriage and not by blood. After a man is married, he may not speak familiarly to his wife’s mother, nor even look upon her face, and this curious custom is called “being ashamed of the mother-in-law.” If he wishes to speak to her, he must retire to some distance, and carry on his communication by shouting: which, as has been truly said, is certainly no hardship to a Kaffir. Or, if the communication be of a nature that others ought not to hear, the etiquette is thought to be sufficiently observed provided that the two parties stand at either side of a fence over which they cannot see.

If, as is often the case, the man and his mother-in-law happen to meet in one of the narrow paths that lead from the kraal to the gardens and cultivated fields, they must always pretend not to see each other. The woman generally looks out for a convenient bush, and crouches behind it, while the man carefully holds his shield to his face. So far is this peculiar etiquette carried that neither the man nor his mother-in-law is allowed to mention the name of the other. This prohibition must in all places be exceedingly awkward, but it is more so in Kaffirland, where the name which is given to each individual is sure to denote some mental or physical attribute, or to be the name of some natural object which is accepted as the embodiment of that attribute.

Supposing, then, that the name of the man signified a house, and that the name of his mother-in-law signified a cow, it is evident that each must be rather embarrassed in ordinary conversation. Persons thus situated always substitute some other word for that which they are forbidden to pronounce, and that substitution is always accepted by the friends. Curiously circumlocutory terms are thus invented, and very much resemble the euphemisms which prevail both in Northern America and Northern Europe. In such a case as has been mentioned, the man might always speak of a cow as the “horned one,” and the woman would use the word “dwelling” or “habitation” instead of “house.”

As, moreover, a man has generally a considerable number of mothers-in-law, it is evident that this rule must sometimes be productive of much inconvenience, and cause the memory to be always on the stretch. How such a man as Panda, who has at least a thousand mothers-in-law, contrives to carry on conversation at all, is rather perplexing. Perhaps he is considered to be above the law, and that his words are as irresponsible as his actions. The reader may perhaps remember that a similar custom prevails throughout the greater part of Polynesia.


The wife, again, is interdicted from pronouncing the name of her husband, or that of any of his brothers. This seems as if she would be prevented from speaking to him in familiar terms, but such is not really the case. The fact is, that every Kaffir has more than one name; and the higher the rank, the greater the number of names. At birth, or soon afterward, a name is given to the child, and this name has always reference to some attribute which the child is desired to possess, or to some circumstance which has occurred at the time.

For example, a child is sometimes called by the name of the day on which it is born, just as Robinson Crusoe called his servant Friday. If a wild beast, such as a lion or a jackal, were heard to roar at the time when the child was born, the circumstance would be accepted as an omen, and the child called by the name of the beast, or by a word which represents its cry. Mr. Shooter mentions some rather curious examples of these names. If the animal which was heard at the time of the child’s birth were the hyæna, which is called impisi by the natives, the name of the child might be either U’mpisi, or U-huhu, the second being an imitative sound representing the laugh-like cry of the hyæna. A boy whose father prided himself on the number of his stud, which of course would be very much increased when his son inherited them, called the child “Uso-mahashe,” i. e. the father of horses. This child became afterward a well-known chief in the Natal district. A girl, again, whose mother had been presented with a new hoe just before[89] her daughter was born, called the girl “Uno-ntsimbi,” i. e. the daughter of iron. The name of Panda, the king of the Zulu tribes, is in reality “U-mpande,” a name derived from “impande,” a kind of root.

These birth-names are known by the title “igama,” and it is only to them that the prohibitive custom extends. In the case of a chief, his igama may not be spoken by any belonging to his kraal; and in the case of a king, the law extends to all his subjects. Thus, a Kaffir will not only refuse to speak of Panda by his name, but when he has occasion to speak of the root impande, he substitutes another word, and calls it “ingxabo.”

A Kaffir does not like that a stranger should even hear his igama, for he has a hazy sort of idea that the knowledge might be used for some evil purpose. One of my friends, who lived in Kaffirland for some years, and employed a considerable number of the men, never could induce any of them to tell him their igama, and found that they would always prefer to be called by some English name, such as Tom, or Billy. At last, when he had attained a tolerable idea of the language, he could listen to their conversation, and so find out the real names by which they addressed each other. When he had mastered these names, he took an opportunity of addressing each man by his igama, and frightened them exceedingly. On hearing the word spoken, they started as if they had been struck, and laid their hands on their mouths in horrified silence. The very fact that the white man had been able to gain the forbidden knowledge affected them with so strong an idea of his superiority that they became very obedient servants.

In addition to the igama, the Kaffir takes other names, always in praise of some action that he has performed, and it is thought good manners to address him by one or more of these titles. This second name is called the “isi-bonga,” a word which is derived from “uku-bonga,” to praise. In Western Africa, a chief takes, in addition to his ordinary name, a whole series of “strong-names,” all allusive to some portion of his history. Sometimes, the isi-bonga is given to him by others. For example, as soon as a boy is enrolled among the youths, his parents give him an isi-bonga; and when he assumes the head-ring of manhood, he always assumes another praise-name. If a man distinguishes himself in battle, his comrades greet him by an isi-bonga, by which he is officially known until he earns another. On occasions of ceremony he is always addressed by one or more of these praise-names; and if he be visited by an inferior, the latter stands outside his hut, and proclaims aloud as many of his titles as he thinks suitable for the occasion. It is then according to etiquette to send a present of snuff, food, and drink to the visitor, who again visits the hut, and recommences his proclamation, adding more titles as an acknowledgment of the chief’s liberality.

A king has, of course, an almost illimitable number of isi-bongas, and really to learn them all in order requires a memory of no mean order. Two or three of them are therefore selected for ordinary use, the remainder being reserved for the heralds whose peculiar office it is to recite the praises of their monarch. Panda, for example, is usually addressed as “O Elephant.” This is merely a symbolical isi-bonga, and is given to the king as admitting him to be greatest among men as the elephant is greatest among beasts. In one sense it is true enough, the elephantine proportions of Panda quite justifying such an allusion. This title might be given to any very great man, but it is a convenient name by which the king may be called, and therefore by this name he is usually addressed in council and on parade.

For example, Mr. Shooter recalls a little incident which occurred during a review by Panda. The king turned to one of the “boys,” and asked how he would behave if he met a white man in battle? Never was there a more arrant coward than this “boy,” but boasting was safe, and springing to his feet he spoke like a brave: “Yes, O Elephant! You see me! I’ll go against the white man. His gun is nothing. I’ll rush upon him quickly before he has time to shoot, or I’ll stoop down to avoid the ball. See how I’ll kill him!” and forthwith his stick did the work of an assagai on the body of an imaginary European. Ducking to avoid a bullet, and then rushing in before the enemy had time to reload, was a very favorite device with the Kaffir warriors, and answered very well at first. But their white foes soon learned to aim so low that all the ducking in the world could not elude the bullet, while the more recent invention of revolvers and breech-loaders has entirely discomfited this sort of tactics.

In a song in honor of Panda, a part of which has already been quoted, a great number of isi-bongas are introduced. It will be therefore better to give the song entire, and to explain the various allusions in their order. It must be remembered that in his earlier days Panda, whose life was originally spared by Dingan, when he murdered Tchaka and the rest of the family, was afterward obliged to flee before him, and very ingeniously contrived to get off safely across the river by watching his opportunity while the army of Dingan was engaged in another direction. He then made an alliance with the white men, brought a large force against Dingan, and conquered him, driving him far beyond the boundaries, and ending by having himself[90] proclaimed as King of the Zulu tribes. This fight took place at the Makonko, and was witnessed by Panda’s wife, who came from Mankebe. The various praise-names of Panda, or the isi-bongas, are marked by being printed in italics.

“1. Thou brother of the Tchakas, considerate forder,
2. A swallow which fled in the sky;
3. A swallow with a whiskered breast;
4. Whose cattle was ever in so huddled a crowd,
5. They stumbled for room when they ran.
6. Thou false adorer of the valor of another,
7. That valor thou tookest at the battle of Makonko.
8. Of the stock of N’dabazita, ramrod of brass,
9. Survivor alone of all other rods;
10. Others they broke and left this in the soot,
11. Thinking to burn it some rainy cold day.
12. Thigh of the bullock of Inkakavini,
13. Always delicious if only ’tis roasted,
14. It will always be tasteless if boiled.
15. The woman from Mankebe is delighted;
16. She has seen the leopards of Jama
17. Fighting together between the Makonko.
18. He passed between the Jutuma and Ihliza,
19. The Celestial who thundered between the Makonko.
20. I praise thee, O king! son of Jokwane, the son of Undaba,
21. The merciless opponent of every conspiracy.
22. Thou art an elephant, an elephant, an elephant.
23. All glory to thee, thou monarch who art black.”

The first isi-bonga in line 1, alludes to the ingenuity with which Panda succeeded in crossing the river, so as to escape out of the district where Dingan exercised authority. In the second line, “swallow which fled in the sky,” is another allusion to the secrecy with which he managed his flight, which left no more track than the passage of a swallow through the air. Lines 4 and 5 allude to the wealth, i. e. the abundance of cattle, possessed by Panda. Line 6 asserts that Panda was too humble-minded, and thought more of the power of Dingan than it deserved; while line 7 offers as proof of this assertion that when they came to fight Panda conquered Dingan. Lines 8 to 11 all relate to the custom of seasoning sticks by hanging them over the fireplaces in Kaffir huts. Line 14 alludes to the fact that meat is very seldom roasted by the Kaffirs, but is almost invariably boiled, or rather stewed, in closed vessels. In line 15 the “woman from Mankebe” is Panda’s favorite wife. In line 19, “The Celestial” alludes to the name of the great Zulu tribe over which Panda reigned; the word “Zulu” meaning celestial, and having much the same import as the same word when employed by the Chinese to denote their origin. Line 21 refers to the attempts of Panda’s rivals to dethrone him, and the ingenious manner in which he contrived to defeat their plans by forming judicious alliances. Line 22 reiterates the chief isi-bonga by which he is orally addressed, and the words “Monarch who art black” have already been explained at p. 12, when treating of the appearance of the Kaffir tribes.

As is the case in many countries, when a man has his first-born son presented to him he takes as a new isi-bonga the name of the son, with that of “father” prefixed to it; while, on the other hand, if his father should happen to be a man of peculiar eminence he takes as a praise-name that of his father, with the word “son” prefixed. It will be seen, therefore, that while the original name, or igama, is permanent, though very seldom mentioned, his isi-bonga, or praise-name, is continually changing.

Fortunately, the Zulu language is complex in its structure, and its purity is jealously preserved by the continual councils which are held, and the displays of oratory which always accompany them. Otherwise, this curious custom of substituting arbitrarily one word for another might have an extremely injurious effect on the language, as has indeed been the case in the countries where a similar custom prevails, and in which the language has changed so completely that the natives who had left their own country, and returned after a lapse of some thirty years, would scarcely be able to make themselves understood, even though they had perfectly retained the language as it was when they last spoke it in their own land.

There is a curious regulation among the Kaffirs, that a man is not allowed to enter the hut in which either of his son’s wives may be. If he wishes to enter he gives notice, and she retires. But, when he is in possession of the hut, she is placed at equal disadvantage, and cannot enter her own house until he has left it. This rule, however, is seldom kept in all its strictness, and indeed such literal obedience is hardly possible, because the eldest son very seldom leaves his father’s kraal until he has married at least two wives. In consequence of the great practical inconvenience of this rule, the Kaffirs have contrived to evade it, although they have not openly abandoned it. The father-in-law presents an ox to his son’s wife, and in consideration of this liberality, she frees him from the obligation of this peculiar and troublesome courtesy. The native name for this custom is “uku-hlonipa.”

From what has been said, it is evident that women hold a very inferior position among the Kaffirs, and are looked upon quite as if they were cattle; liable, like cattle, to be bought and sold. A Kaffir never dreams that he and his wife are on terms of the least equality, or that he does not deserve praise at her hand for his condescension in marrying her at all. A man will scarcely condescend to notice the women of his own household. If they go out on their several labors, they go their several ways. Supposing, for example, that a man were to cut sticks for firing, or poles for the support of a new house; his wives, in going[91] to the same spot, would be careful to choose a different path. When he has cut the wood he walks off, leaving his wives to perform the really heavy labor of bringing it home, and no man would ever think of assisting a woman in so menial a labor.

There are now before me several photographs representing women carrying bundles of sticks, and it is wonderful what huge burdens these hard worked women will carry. A man will not even lift the wood upon the head of his wife, but expects that one of her own sex will assist her. Sometimes, when a number of women are returning from wood cutting, walking in single file, as is their custom, a “boy” will take the head of the procession. But he will not degrade himself by carrying so much as a stick, and bears nothing but his weapons, and perhaps a small shield.

The unceremonious manner in which these hard worked women are treated is little less singular than the cheerful acquiescence with which they obey the commands of their sable masters. Once, when Captain Gardiner was visiting Dingan, he was roused long before daybreak by the vociferation of a man who was running through the kraal, and shouting some command in a most peremptory tone. It turned out that Dingan had suddenly taken into his head to build a new kraal, and had ordered all the women into the bush to procure reeds and branches for building purposes. In a few minutes a vast number of female voices were heard uniting in a pleasing melody, which became louder and louder as the numbers of the singers increased on their mustering ground, and then gradually died away in the distance as they moved to the scene of their labors. The bush to which they were sent was ten miles from the kraal, but they went off quite cheerfully, and in the afternoon, when they returned, each bearing a huge bundle of bushes on her head, they were singing the same song, though they had walked so long a distance and so heavily laden. The song does not seem to have possessed much variety, as it chiefly consisted of one line, “Akoosiniki, ingonyama izezewi,” and a chorus of “Haw! haw! haw!” It was probably intended for the same purpose as the tunes played by regimental bands; namely, to enable the party to keep step with each other.

Dingan was so tenacious of the superiority of his own sex that he would never allow his wives to stand in his presence, but made them shuffle about from place to place on their knees.

In consequence of their different habits of life, the men and women hardly seem to belong to the same race. The men, as a rule, are exceptionally fine specimens of humanity; and, despite their high cheek-bones, woolly hair, and thick lips, might serve as models for a sculptor. Their stature is tall, their forms are elastic and muscular, and their step is free and noble, as becomes the gait of warriors. In all these respects they are certainly not inferior to Europeans, and in many are decidedly superior. The women, however, are rather stunted than otherwise: their figures are bowed by reason of the heavy weights which they have to carry, and they rapidly lose that wonderful symmetry of form which distinguished them while still in the bloom of youth. The men preserve their grandeur of demeanor and their bold, intelligent aspect, even until their hair is gray from age, while the elderly Kaffir woman is at best awkward and unsightly, and the old woman irresistibly reminds the observer of an aged and withered monkey.

Exceptions to the general rule are sometimes found. A chief or wealthy man, for example, would take a pride in freeing his daughters and chief wife from the exceptionally hard labor which falls to the lot of the sex in Kaffirland. In the case of the daughters, he is moved quite as much by self-interest as by parental affection. A girl fetches a price commensurate with her appearance, and the very best price is always to be obtained for the best article. The daughter of a poor man, or dependant, is obliged to work hard and live hard; and the natural consequence is, that she has scarcely any real youth, and that her form is spoiled by the heavy labors which are imposed upon her at an age when all the bodily powers ought to be employed in adding to the physical energy of her frame. Therefore, when such a girl is old enough to be married, she is thin, careworn, and coarse, and no one will give very much for her. Indeed, if she should be married, she is perfectly aware that her real post in the kraal of her husband is little more than that of a purchased drudge.

The daughter of a wealthy man, on the contrary, undertakes but little of the really hard work which falls to the lot of her sex; and as she is not only allowed, but encouraged, to eat the most fattening food with as much despatch as possible, it naturally follows that, when compared with the ordinary drudge of every-day life, she is by far the more prepossessing, and her father is sure to obtain a very much higher price for her than would have been the case if she had been forced to do hard labor. Thus the three great requisites of a Kaffir girl are, that she should be fat, strong, and have a tolerably good-looking face. This last qualification is, however, subordinate to the other two. That she is fat, shows that she has not been prematurely worn out by hard work; and that she is strong, gives promise that she will be able to do plenty of work after her marriage, and that the purchaser will not have reason to think that he has wasted his money.




If there is any one trait which distinguishes the true Kaffir race, it is the innate genius for warfare. The Kaffir lives from his childhood to his death in an atmosphere of war. Until he is old and wealthy, and naturally desires to keep his possessions in tranquillity, a time of peace is to him a time of trouble. He has no opportunity of working off his superabundant energy; he has plenty of spears which he cannot use against an enemy, and a shield which he can only employ in the dance. He has no chance of distinguishing himself, and so gaining both rank and wealth; and if he be a young bachelor, he cannot hope to be promoted to the rank of “man,” and allowed to marry, for many a long year. It is true, that in a time of war he may be killed; but that is a reflection which does not in the least trouble a Kaffir. For all he knows, he stands in just as great danger of his life in a time of peace. He may unintentionally offend the king; he may commit a breach of discipline which would be overlooked in war time; he may be accused as a wizard, and tortured to death; he may accumulate a few cows, and so excite the cupidity of the chief, who will fine him heavily for something which either he did not do, or which was not of the slightest importance.

Knowing, therefore, that a violent death is quite as likely to befall him in peace as in war, and as in peace he has no chance of gratifying his ambitious feelings, the young Kaffir is all for war. Indeed, had it not been for the judicious councils of the old men, the English Government would have had much more trouble with these tribes than has been the case. Even under Panda’s rule, there have been great dissensions among the army. All agreed in disliking the rule of the English in the Natal district, because Natal formed a refuge for thousands of Kaffirs, most of them belonging to the Zulu tribe, and having fled from the tyranny of Panda; while others belonged to tribes against which Panda had made war, and had fled for protection to the English flag.

The younger warriors, fierce, arrogant, despising the white man because they do not know him, have repeatedly begged to be allowed to invade Natal. They urge, in pursuance of their request, that they will conquer the country, restore to their king all the fugitives who have run away from him, and inflame their own minds, and those of the young and ignorant, by glowing descriptions of the rich spoil which would fall to the conquerors, of the herds of cattle, the tons of beads, the quantities of fire-arms and ammunition, and, in fact, the unlimited supply[93] of everything which a Kaffir’s heart can possibly desire. The older men, however, who have more acquaintance with the white men, and a tolerably good experience of the fact that when a white man fires his gun he generally hits his mark, have always dissuaded their younger and more impetuous comrades from so rash an attempt.

Strangely enough, the argument which has proved most powerful is really a very weak one. The Kaffir, like other men, is brave enough when he can comprehend his danger; but he does not at all like to face a peril which he cannot understand. Like all unknown things, such a peril is indeed terrible to a Kaffir’s mind, and this unknown peril is summed up in the word cannon, or “By-and-by”—to use the native term. Why cannon are so called will presently be mentioned. The Kaffirs have heard that the dreadful By-and-by eats up everything—trees, houses, stones, grass; and, as they justly argue, it is very likely to eat up Kaffir soldiers. Of course, in defending a fort against Kaffirs, cannon, loaded with grape and canister, would be of terrible efficacy, and they would be justified in declining to assault any place that was defended with such dreadful weapons. But they do not seem to be aware that guns in a fort and guns in the bush are two very different things, and that, if they could decoy the artillery into the bush, the dreaded weapons would be of scarcely more use than if they were logs of wood. This distinction the Kaffir never seems to have drawn, and the wholesome dread of cannon has done very much to insure tranquillity among the impetuous and self-confident soldiery of Kaffirland.

The odd name of “By-and-by” became attached to the cannon in the following manner:—When the natives first saw some pieces of artillery in the Natal district, they asked what such strange objects could be, and were answered that they would learn “by-and-by.” Further questions, added to the firing of a few shots, gave them such a terror of the “By-and-by,” that they have never liked to match themselves against such weapons.

The Zulu tribes are remarkable for being the only people in that part of Africa who have practised war in an European sense of the word. The other tribes are very good at bush-fighting, and are exceedingly crafty at taking an enemy unawares, and coming on him before he is prepared for them. Guerilla warfare is, in fact, their only mode of waging battle, and, as is necessarily the case in such warfare, more depends on the exertion of individual combatants than on the scientific combination of masses. But the Zulu tribe have, since the time of Tchaka, the great inventor of military tactics, carried on war in a manner approaching the notions of civilization.

Their men are organized into regiments, each subdivided into companies, and each commanded by its own chief, or colonel, while the king, as commanding general, leads his forces to war, disposes them in battle array, and personally directs their movements. They give an enemy notice that they are about to march against him, and boldly meet him in the open field. There is a military etiquette about them which some of our own people have been slow to understand. They once sent a message to the English commander that they would “come and breakfast with him.” He thought it was only a joke, and was very much surprised when the Kaffirs, true to their promise, came pouring like a torrent over the hills, leaving him barely time to get his men under arms before the dark enemies arrived.

As, in Kaffir warfare, much stress is laid upon the weapons, offensive and defensive, with which the troops are armed, it will be necessary to give a description of their weapons before we proceed any further. They are but few and simple, and consist of certain spears, called “assagais,” short clubs, called “kerries,” and shields made of the hides of oxen.

Almost every nation has its distinguishing weapons, or, at all events, one weapon which is held in greater estimation than any other, and which is never used so skilfully as by itself. The Australian savage has the boomerang, a weapon which cannot be used rightly except by an Australian. Many Europeans can throw it so as to make it perform some trifling evolution in the air, but there are none who can really use it as an efficient weapon or instrument of hunting. The Dyak has his sumpitan, and the Macoushie Indian his analogous weapon, the zarabatana, through which are blown the tiny poisoned arrows, a hundred of which can be held in the hand, and each one of which has death upon its point. The Ghoorka has his kookery, the heavy curved knife, with which he will kill a tiger in fair fight, and boldly attack civilized soldiers in spite of their more elaborate arms. Then the Sikh has the strange quoit weapon, or chakra, which skims through the air or ricochets from the ground, and does frightful execution on the foe. The Esquimaux have their harpoons, which will serve either for catching seals or assaulting the enemy. The Polynesians have their terrible swords and gauntlets armed with the teeth of sharks, each of which cuts like a lancet, and inflicts a wound which, though not dangerous by itself, becomes so when multiplied by the score and inflicted on the most sensitive part of the body.

Some of these weapons are peculiar in shape, and are not used in other countries, whereas some are modifications of implements of warfare spread over a great part of[94] the globe, and altered in shape and size to suit the locality. Of such a nature is the special weapon of the Kaffirs inhabiting the Natal district, the slight-looking but most formidable spear or assagai. The spear is one of the simplest of all weapons, the simplest of all excepting the club. In its primitive state the spear is nothing but a stick of greater or lesser length, sharpened at one end. The best example of this primitive spear may be found in Borneo, where the weapon is made in a few minutes by taking a piece of bamboo of convenient length, and cutting off one end diagonally. The next improvement in spear making was to put the pointed end in the fire for a few moments. This process enabled the spear maker to scrape the point more easily, while the charred wood was rendered hard, and capable of resisting damp better than if it had been simply scraped to a point. Spears of this kind are to be found in almost every primitive savage tribe.

A further improvement now takes place. The point is armed with some material harder than wood, which material may be bone, horn, stone, metal, or other similar substance. Some nations arm the heads of their spears with sharp flakes of flint or obsidian. Some tip them with the end of a sharp horn, or even with the claws of a mammal or a bird—the kangaroo, emu, and cassowary being used for this singular purpose. In many parts of the earth, the favorite spears are armed with the teeth of sharks, while others are headed with the tail spine of the sting-ray, which not only penetrates deeply, but breaks into the wound, and always causes death. These additions to the spears, together with others formed of certain marine shells, are necessarily the productions of tribes that inhabit certain islands in the warmer seas. The last and greatest improvement that is made in the manufacture of spears is the abolition of all additions to the head, and making the head itself of metal. For this purpose iron is generally used, partly because it takes a sharp edge, and partly because it can be easily forged into any required shape. The natives of Southern Africa are wonderful proficients in forging iron, and indeed a decided capability for the blacksmith’s art seems to be inherent in the natives of Africa, from north to south and from east to west. None of the tribes can do very much with the iron, but the little which they require is worked in perfection. As is the case with all uncivilized beings, the whole treasures of the art are lavished on their weapons; and so if we wish to see what an African savage can do with iron, we must look at his spears, knives, and arrows—the latter indeed being but spears in miniature.

The heads of the Kaffir’s spears are extremely variable in form, some being a mere spike, but the generality being blade shaped. Very few are barbed, and the ordinary shape is that which is seen several times in the illustration on page 103. Still, wherever the blade is adopted, it has always one peculiarity of structure, whether it be plain or barbed. A raised ridge passes along the centre, and the blade is convex on one side of the ridge, and concave on the other. The reason of this curious structure seems to be twofold. In the first place, it is possible that this structure of the blade acts much as the feathers of an arrow, or the spiral groove on the rifle balls invented by Dr. Croft, and which can be used in smooth bore barrels. Colonel Lane Fox finds that if a thread be tied to the point of an assagai, and the weapon be thrown with great care, so that no revolving force is given by the thrower, the thread is found spirally twisted round the head and shaft by the time that the weapon has touched the ground. That certainly seems to be one reason for the form. Another reason is, that a blade thus shaped can be sharpened very easily, when it becomes blunt. Nothing is needed but to take a flint, or even the back of a common knife, and scrape it along the edge, and, if properly done, a single such scrape will sharpen the weapon afresh. The head is always made of soft iron, and so yields easily to the sharpening process. The reader may remember that the harpoons which we use for whale hunting are always made of the softest iron; were they made of steel, the first furious tug of the whale might snap them, while, if they were to become blunt, they could not be sharpened without much trouble and hard work at the grindstone.

Setting aside the two questions of rotatory motion and convenience of sharpening, it is possible that the peculiar structure of the blade may be owing to the fact that such a structure would produce the greatest amount of strength with the least amount of material. The sword bayonet of the Chassepot rifle is made on a similar principle. Whether the Kaffir is aware of this principle and forges his spear head in accordance with it, is another point. The reader, better informed than the Kaffir, may perhaps remember that the identical principle is carried out in the “corrugated” iron, now in such general use for buildings, roofs, and similar purposes.

Kaffirs have a great fondness for implements made of soft iron, and prefer a knife made of that material to the best blade that Sheffield can produce. They admit that for some purposes the steel blade is superior to their own, but that for ordinary work nothing can compare with the soft iron. The steel blade breaks, and is useless, while the soft iron only bends. Moreover, when they want to scoop out a hollow in a piece of wood, such as the bowl of a spoon, the[95] inflexible steel blade would be nearly useless. But a Kaffir simply takes his soft iron knife, bends it to the requisite curve, and thus can make, at a moment’s notice, a gouge with any degree of curvature. When he has finished his work, he puts the blade on a flat stone, and beats it straight again in a few seconds. The Kaffir knife is not at all like our own, but is shaped just like the head of an assagai. In using it, he grasps the handle just as artists represent assassins holding daggers, and not as we hold knives. He always cuts away from himself, as is shown on page 73, No. 1; and, clumsy as this mode of using a knife may appear, Englishmen have often learned to appreciate it, and to employ it in preference to the ordinary European fashion.

Unfit as would be the tools made by a Kaffir when employed in Europe, those made in Europe and used in Southern Africa are still less useful. Being unacquainted with this fact, both travellers and settlers are apt to spend much money in England upon articles which they afterward find to be without the least value—articles which an experienced settler would not take as a gift. As a familiar example of the difference between the tools required in various countries, the axe may be mentioned. It is well known that, of all the varieties of this tool, the American axe is the best, as it has attained its present superiority by dint of long experience on part of the makers among the vast forests of their country. Emigrants, therefore, almost invariably supply themselves with a few American axes, and in most cases they could not do better. But in Southern Africa this excellent tool is as useless as would be a razor in chipping stones. The peculiar wood of the mimosa, a tree which is used so universally in Southern Africa, is sure to notch the edge of the axe, and in a short time to render it incapable of doing its work; whereas the South African axe, which would be a clumsy and slow working tool in America, can cut down the hardest mimosa without suffering any injury.

There is another reason why a Kaffir prefers his own iron work to that of European make. His own manufacture has the property of resisting damp without rusting. If an European knife or steel tool of the finest quality be left in the open air all night, and by the side of it a Kaffir’s assagai, the former will be covered with rust, while the latter is as bright as ever. Such is the case with those assagais which are brought to England. It is possible that this freedom from rust may be obtained by a process similar to that which is employed in the manufacture of geological hammers, namely, that while the metal is hot, it is plunged into oil, and then hammered. The excellence of the blade is partially owing to the fact that the fire in which the metal is smelted, and afterward heated for the forge, is made of charcoal, so as to convert the iron into a kind of steel. The celebrated “wootz” steel of India is made by placing the iron in small crucibles together with little twigs of certain trees, and then submitting the crucible to a very intense heat.

It is evident that, in order to produce such weapons, the Kaffir must be a good blacksmith, and it is certain that, when we take into consideration the kind of work which has to be done, he can hardly be surpassed in his art. Certainly, if any English blacksmith were given a quantity of iron ore, and only had the very primitive tools which the Kaffir blacksmith employs, he would be entirely vanquished by his dusky brother of the forge.

Among the Kaffirs, a blacksmith is a man of considerable importance, and is much respected by the tribe. He will not profane the mystery of his craft by allowing uninitiated eyes to inspect his various processes, and therefore carries on his operations at some distance from the kraal. His first care is to prepare the bellows. The form which he uses prevails over a very large portion of Africa, and is seen, with some few modifications, even among the many islands of Polynesia. It consists of two leathern sacks, at the upper end of which is a handle. To the lower end of each sack is attached the hollow horns of some animal, that of the cow or the eland being most commonly used; and when the bags are alternately inflated and compressed, the air passes out through the two horns. Of course the heat of the fire would destroy the horns if they were allowed to come in contact with it, and they are therefore inserted, not into the fire, but into an earthenware tube, which communicates with the fire. The use of valves is unknown; but as the two horns do not open into the fire, but into the tube, the fire is not drawn into the bellows as would otherwise be the case. This arrangement, however, causes considerable waste of air, so the bellows blower is obliged to work much harder than would be the case if he were provided with an instrument that could conduct the blast directly to its destination. The ancient Egyptians used a bellows of precisely similar construction, except that they did not work them entirely by hand. They stood with one foot on each sack, and blew the fire by alternately pressing on them with the feet, and raising them by means of a cord fastened to their upper ends.

When the blacksmith is about to set to work, he digs a hole in the ground, in which the fire is placed, and then sinks the earthenware tube in a sloping direction, so that the lower end opens at the bottom of the hole, while the upper end projects above the level of the ground. The two horns are next inserted into the upper end of the[96] earthenware tube, and the bellows are then fastened in their places, so that the sacks are conveniently disposed for the hands of the operator, who sits between them. A charcoal fire is then laid in the hole, and is soon brought to a powerful heat by means of the bellows. A larger stone serves the purpose of an anvil, and a smaller stone does duty for a hammer. Sometimes the hammer is made of a conical piece of iron, but in most cases a stone is considered sufficient. The rough work of hammering the iron into shape is generally done by the chief blacksmith’s assistants, of whom he has several, all of whom will pound away at the iron in regular succession. The shaping and finishing the article is reserved by the smith for himself. The other tools are few and simple, and consist of punches and rude pincers made of two rods of iron.

With these instruments the Kaffir smith can cast brass into various ornaments. Sometimes he pours it into a cylindrical mould, so as to make a bar from which bracelets and similar ornaments can be hammered, and sometimes he makes studs and knobs by forming their shapes in clay moulds.

In the illustration No. 2, on page 97, a native forge is seen in full operation. The chief smith is at the left of the engraving, seated at the bellows and blowing the fire, in which is placed an iron rod which is going to be forged into an assagai head. The manner in which the horn tubes of the bellows are fastened to the ground—a stick being laid across each horn, and a heavy stone upon each stick—is well shown. At the right hand of the smith is a basket containing charcoal, and another is seen near the assistant. On the opposite side sits the assistant or apprentice blacksmith, busily hammering with a conical stone at the spear head which is being forged, and at his side lie one or two finished heads. Behind them, another smith is hard at work with a huge stone with which he is crushing the ore. On the right hand of the illustration is seen the reed fence which is erected in order to keep off the wind, and in the middle distance is the kraal to which the smiths belong. The reed fence is supported by being lashed to a mimosa. Some jars of beer stand within the shadow of the fence for the occasional refreshment of the blacksmiths.

How the blacksmith contrives to work without burning his right hand is rather unintelligible. I have handled the conical hammer, and find that the hand is brought so close to the iron that, when it is heated to a glowing redness, the effect upon the fingers must be singularly unpleasant, not to mention the sparks that fly about so liberally when heated iron is struck. Sometimes, when a native is making small objects, he takes a tolerably large hammer, reverses it, and drives the small end deeply into the ground. The face of the hammer is then uppermost, and answers as an anvil, on which he works with a hammer of smaller size.

Although the bellows which a Kaffir makes are sufficiently powerful to enable him to melt brass, and to forge iron into various shapes, they do not seem to give a sufficiently strong and continuous blast to enable him to weld iron together. Mr. Moffatt mentions a curious anecdote, which illustrates this point. He was visiting Moselekatse, the king of the northern division of the Zulu tribes, and very much frightened the savage monarch by the sight of the wagon, the wheels of which seemed to his ignorant mind to be endowed with motion by some magic power. His greatest wonder was, however, excited by the tire of the wheel, as he could not comprehend how such a piece of iron could be made without the junction of the ends being visible. A native who had accompanied Mr. Moffatt explained to the king how the mystery was solved. He took the missionary’s right hand in his own, held it up before the king, and said, “My eyes saw that very hand cut those bars of iron, take a piece off one end, and then join them as you see now.” After a careful inspection, the spot where the iron had been welded was pointed out. The king then wanted to know whether medicine were given to the iron in order to endow it with such wonderful powers, but was told that nothing was used except fire, a chisel, and a hammer. Yet Moselekatse was king of the essentially warlike Zulus, a nation which possessed plenty of blacksmiths who were well versed in their art, and could forge the leaf shaped blades of the assagais with such skill that the best European smiths could not produce weapons more perfectly suited for the object which they were intended to fulfil.

Le Vaillant narrates an amusing instance of the astonishment caused to some Kaffir blacksmiths by a rude kind of bellows which he made after the European fashion. After paying a just tribute of admiration to the admirable work produced by the dusky blacksmiths in spite of their extremely rude and imperfect tools, he proceeds to describe the form of bellows that they used, which is just that which has been already mentioned.

“I had great difficulty in making them comprehend how much superior the bellows of our forges in Europe were to their invention; and being persuaded that the little they might catch of my explanation would soon escape from their memories, and would consequently be of no real advantage to them, I resolved to add example to precept, and to operate myself in their presence.


(See page 79.)

(See page 96.)


“Having despatched one of my people to our camp with orders to bring the bottoms of two boxes, a piece of a summer kaross, a hoop, a few small nails, a hammer, a saw, and other small tools that I might have occasion for, as soon as he returned I formed in great haste, and in a very rude manner, a pair of bellows, which were not more powerful than those generally used in our kitchens. Two pieces of hoop which I placed in the inside served to keep the skin always at an equal distance; and I did not forget to make a hole in the inferior part, to give a readier admittance to the air—a simple method of which they had no conception, and for want of which they were obliged to waste a great deal of time in filling the sheepskin.

“I had no iron pipe, but, as I only meant to make a model, I fixed to the extremity of mine a toothpick case, after sawing off one of its ends. I then placed my instrument on the ground near the fire, and, having fixed a forked stick in the ground, I laid across it a kind of lever, which was fastened to a bit of packthread proceeding from the bellows, and to which was fixed a piece of lead weighing seven or eight pounds. To form a just idea of the surprise of these Kaffirs on this occasion, one must have seen with what attention they beheld all my operations; the uncertainty in which they were, and their anxiety to discover what would be the event. They could not resist their exclamations when they saw me, by a few easy motions and with one hand, give their fire the greatest activity by the velocity with which I made my machine draw in and again force out the air. Putting some pieces of iron into their fire, I made them red hot in a few minutes, which they undoubtedly could not have done in half an hour.

“This specimen of my skill raised their astonishment to the highest pitch. I may venture to say that they were almost convulsed and thrown into a delirium. They danced and capered round the bellows; each tried them in turn, and they clapped their hands the better to testify their joy. They begged me to make them a present of this wonderful machine, and seemed to await for my answer with impatience, not imagining, as I judged, that I would readily give up so valuable a piece of furniture. It would afford me great pleasure to hear, at some future period, that they have brought them to perfection, and that, above all, they preserve a remembrance of that stranger who first supplied them with the most essential instrument in metallurgy.”

As far as can be judged by the present state of the blacksmith’s art in Kaffirland, the natives have not derived the profit from Le Vaillant’s instructions which he so ingenuously predicted. In all probability, the bellows in question would be confiscated by the chief of the tribe, who would destroy their working powers in endeavoring to make out their action. Moreover, the Kaffir is eminently conservative in his notions, and he would rather prefer the old sheepskin, which only required to be tied at the legs and neck with thongs, to the comparatively elaborate instrument of the white traveller, which needed the use of wooden hoops, nails, saw, hammer, and the other tools of the civilized workman.

The Kaffir smiths have long known the art of wire drawing, though their plates are very rude, the metal comparatively soft, and the wire in consequence irregularly drawn. Moreover, they cannot make wire of iron, but are obliged to content themselves with the softer metals, such as brass and copper. Mr. Moffat, the African missionary, relates an amusing anecdote of an interview with a native metal worker. As a missionary ought to do, he had a practical knowledge of the blacksmith’s art, and so became on friendly terms with his dark brother of the forge; and after winning his heart by making him a new wire drawing plate, made of steel, and pierced for wires of twenty variations in thickness, induced him to exhibit the whole of his mystic process.

His first proceeding was to prepare four moulds, very simply made by building a little heap of dry sand, and pushing into it a little stick about a quarter of an inch in diameter. He then built and lighted a charcoal fire, such as has already been described, and he next placed in a kind of rude clay crucible some copper and a little tin. A vigorous manipulation of the bellows fused the copper and tin together, and he then took out the crucible with a rude kind of tongs made of bark, and poured the contents into the holes, thus making a number of short brass rods about a quarter of an inch in diameter and three or four inches in length. These rods were next removed from the moulds and hammered with a stone until they were reduced to half their diameter. During this operation, the rods were frequently heated in the flame of burning grass.

Next came the important operation of drawing the rods through the holes, so as to convert them into wire. The end of a rod was sharpened and forced through the largest hole, a split stick being used by way of pincers, and the rod continually greased. By repeating this process the wire is passed through holes that become regularly smaller in diameter, until at last it is scarcely thicker than sewing thread. The wire plate is about half an inch in thickness. The brass thus made is not equal in color to that in which zinc is used instead of tin, but as it is capable of taking a high polish, the native cares for nothing more. The reader may perhaps remember that Mr. Williams, the well-known missionary, established his reputation among the savages to whom he was sent by making an extemporized set of bellows out of boxes and boards, the rats[100] always eating every scrap of leather that was exposed.

The knowledge of forge work which Mr. Moffatt possessed was gained by him under very adverse circumstances. A broken-down wagon had to be mended, and there was no alternative but to turn blacksmith and mend the wagon, or to abandon the expedition. Finding that the chief drawback to the powers of the forge was the inefficient construction of the native bellows, he set to work, and contrived to make a pair of bellows very similar to those of which Le Vaillant gave so glowing a description. And, if any proof were needed that the French traveller’s aspirations had not been realized, it may be found in the fact that the rude bellows made by the English missionary were as much a matter of astonishment to the natives as those which had been made by Le Vaillant some sixty years before.

Much of the iron used in Southern Africa seems to be of meteoric origin, and is found in several localities in a wonderfully pure state, so that very little labor is needed in order to make it fit for the forge.

The Kaffir blacksmith never need trouble himself about the means of obtaining a fire. Should he set up his forge in the vicinity of a kraal, the simplest plan is to send his assistant for a firebrand from one of the huts. But, if he should prefer, as is often the case, to work at some distance from the huts, he can procure fire with perfect certainty, though not without some labor.

He first procures two sticks, one of them taken from a soft wood tree, and the other from an acacia, or some other tree that furnishes a hard wood. Of course both the sticks must be thoroughly dry, a condition about which there is little difficulty in so hot a climate. His next care is to shape one end of the hard stick into a point, and to bore a small hole in the middle of the soft stick. He now squats down, places the pointed tip of the hard stick in the hole of the soft stick, and, taking the former between his hands, twirls it backward and forward with extreme rapidity. As he goes on, the hole becomes enlarged, and a small quantity of very fine dust falls into it, being rubbed away by the friction. Presently, the dust is seen to darken in color, then to become nearly black; and presently a very slight smoke is seen to rise. The Kaffir now redoubles his efforts; he aids the effect of the revolving stick by his breath, and in a few more seconds the dust bursts into a flame. The exertion required in this operation is very severe, and by the time that the fire manifests itself the producer is bathed in perspiration.

Usually, two men, at least, take part in fire making, and, by dividing the labor, very much shorten the process. It is evident that, if the perpendicular stick be thus worked, the hands must gradually slide down it until they reach the point. The solitary Kaffir would then be obliged to stop the stick, shift his hands to the top, and begin again, thus losing much valuable time. But when two Kaffirs unite in fire making, one sits opposite the other, and as soon as he sees that his comrade’s hands have nearly worked themselves down to the bottom of the stick, he places his own hands on the top, continues the movement, and relieves his friend. Thus, the movement of the stick is never checked for a moment, and the operation is consequently hastened. Moreover, considerable assistance is given by the second Kaffir keeping the dust properly arranged round the point of the stick, and by taking the part of the bellows, so as to allow his comrade to expend all his strength in twirling the stick.

I have now before me one of the soft sticks in which fire has been made. There is a hole very much resembling in shape and size the depressions in a solitaire board, except that its sides are black and deeply charred by the fire, and in places highly polished by the friction. Some of my readers may perhaps remember that English blacksmiths are equally independent of lucifer matches, flint and steel, and other recognized modes of fire raising. They place a small piece of soft iron on the anvil, together with some charcoal dust, and hammer it furiously. The result is that enough heat is evolved to light the charcoal, and so to enable the blacksmith to set to work.

We will now see how the native makes his assagai.

With their simple tools the native smiths contrive to make their spear heads of such an excellent temper that they take a very sharp edge; so sharp, indeed, that the assagai is used, not only for cutting up meat and similar offices, but for shaving the head. Also, it is so pliable, that a good specimen can be bent nearly double and beaten straight again, without being heated.

When the Kaffir smith has finished the head of the assagai, it looks something like the blade of a table knife before it is inserted into the handle, and has a straight projecting peg, by which it is fastened into the wooden shaft. This peg, or tang as cutlers call it, is always notched, so as to make it retain its hold the better.

Now comes the next process. The spear maker has already by him a number of shafts. These are cut from a tree which is popularly called “assagai-wood,” and on the average, are nearly live feet in length. In diameter they are very small, seldom exceeding that of a man’s little finger at the thick end, while the other end tapers to the diameter of an ordinary black-lead pencil. The assagai-tree is called scientifically[101] Curtisia Jaginea, and is something like the mahogany. The shaft of the assagai is seldom, if ever, sufficiently straight to permit the weapon to be used at once. It is straightened by means of heating it over the fire, and then scraping, beating, and bending it until the maker is pleased with the result. Even after the weapon has been made and in use, the shaft is very apt to warp, and in this case the Kaffir always rapidly straightens the assagai before he throws it. In spite of its brittle nature, it will endure a considerable amount of bending, provided that the curve be not too sharp, and that the operator does not jerk the shaft as he bends it. Indeed, if it were not for the elasticity of the shaft, the native would not be able to produce the peculiar quivering or vibrating movement, to which the weapon owes so much of its efficiency.

By means of heating the “tang” of the head red hot, a hole is bored into the thick end of the shaft, and the tang passed into it. Were it left without further work, the spear would be incomplete, for the head would fall away from the shaft whenever the point was held downward. In order to fasten it in its place, the Kaffir always makes use of one material, namely, raw hide. He cuts a narrow strip of hide, sometimes retaining the hair, and binds it while still wet upon the spear. As it dries, the hide contracts, and forms a band nearly as strong as if made of iron. There is no particular art displayed in tying this band; we never see in that portion of an assagai the least trace of the elaborate and elegant patterns used by the New Zealanders in the manufacture of their weapons. The strip of hide is merely rolled round the spear and the loose end tucked beneath a fold. Yet the Kaffir is not without the power of producing such patterns, and will commonly weave very elaborate and elegant ornaments, from the hair of the elephant’s tail and similar materials. These ornamental lashings are, however, always placed on the shaft of the weapon, and are never employed in fastening the head of the assagai in its place.

In the illustration on page 103 is drawn a group of assagais, in order to show the chief varieties of this weapon. The whole of them have been drawn from specimens in my own possession. The word “assagai” is not a Kaffir term, but, like the popular name of the tribe, like the words kaross, kraal, &c., has been borrowed from another language. The Zulu word for the assagai is um-konto, a word which has a curious though accidental resemblance to the Latin contus.

The ordinary form or “throwing assagai” is shown at fig. 5. It is used as a missile, and not as a dagger. In some cases the throwing assagai is shaped in a more simple manner, the head being nothing but a sharpened spike of iron, without any pretensions of being formed into a blade. This weapon is five feet seven inches in total length, and the blade measures a foot in length from its junction with the shaft. Sometimes the blade is much longer and wider, as seen at fig. 4, which represents the ordinary “stabbing assagai.” This weapon can be used as a missile, but is very seldom employed except as a manual weapon. Its long, straight blade is much used in the more peaceful vocations of daily life, and a Kaffir in time of peace seldom uses it for any worse purpose than slaughtering cattle, and cutting them up afterward. This is the assagai that is usually employed as a knife, and with which the ingenious native contrives to shave his head.

At fig. 7 is shown a very remarkable specimen of the barbed assagai. Intending to produce an extremely elegant weapon, the artificer has lavished much pains on his work. In the first place, he has forged a deeply barbed head, a form which is but rarely seen. He has then fastened it to the shaft in a rather singular way. Instead of cutting a strip of raw hide and binding it round the weapon, he has taken the tail of a calf, cut off a piece about four inches in length, drawn the skin from it so as to form a tube, and slipped this tube over the spear. As is the case with the hide lashing, the tube contracts as it dries, and forms a singularly effective mode of attaching the head to the shaft. The hair has been retained, and, in the maker’s opinion, a very handsome weapon has been produced.

The assagai, in its original form, is essentially a missile, and is made expressly for that purpose, although it serves several others. And, insignificant as it looks when compared with the larger and more elaborate spears of other nations, there is no spear or lancet that can surpass it in efficacy.

The Kaffir, when going on a warlike or hunting expedition, or even when travelling to any distance, takes with him a bundle, or “sheaf,” of assagais, at least five in number, and sometimes eight or nine. When he assails an enemy, he rushes forward, springing from side to side in order to disconcert the aim of his adversary, and hurling spear after spear with such rapidity that two or three are in the air at once, each having been thrown from a different direction. There is little difficulty in avoiding a single spear when thrown from the front; but when the point of one is close to the heart, and another is coming to the right side, and the enemy is just hurling another on the left, it is a matter of no small difficulty to escape one or other of them. If the assailed individual stands still, he is sure to be hit, for the Kaffir’s aim is absolute certainty; while if he tries to escape a spear coming[102] from the left, he will probably be hit by another coming from the right.

Moreover, the mode in which the weapon is thrown serves to disconcert the enemy, and bewilder his gaze. Just before he throws the spear, the Kaffir makes it quiver in a very peculiar manner. He grasps it with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, holding it just above the spot where it balances itself, and with the head pointing up his arm. The other fingers are laid along the shaft, and are suddenly and firmly closed, so as to bring the balance spot of the spear against the root of the hand. This movement causes the spear to vibrate strongly and is rapidly repeated, until the weapon gives out a peculiar humming or shivering noise, impossible to be described, and equally impossible to be forgotten when once heard. It is as menacing a sound as the whirr of the rattlesnake, and is used by the Kaffirs when they wish to strike terror into their opponents. When thrown, the assagai does not lose this vibrating movement, but seems even to vibrate stronger than before, the head describing a large arc of a circle, of which the balance point forms the centre. This vibration puzzles the eye of the adversary, because it is almost impossible to tell the precise direction which the weapon is taking. Any one can calculate the flight of a rigid missile, such as a thick spear or arrow, but when the weapon is vibrating the eye is greatly bewildered.

The whole look of an assagai in the air is very remarkable, and has never been properly represented. All illustrations have represented it as quite straight and stiff in its flight, whereas it looks just like a very slender serpent undulating itself gracefully through the air. It seems instinct with life, and appears rather to be seeking its own course than to be a simple weapon thrown by the hand of a man. As it flies along it continually gives out the peculiar shivering sound which has been mentioned, and this adds to the delusion of its aspect.

An illustration on page 111 represents a group of Kaffir warriors engaged in a skirmish. In the present instance they are exhibiting their prowess in a mock fight, the heads of the assagais being of wood instead of iron, and blunted, but still hard and sharp enough to give a very severe blow—experto crede. In the background are seen a number of soldiers standing behind their shields so as to exemplify the aptness of their title, the Matabele, or Disappearers. In the immediate foreground is a soldier in the full uniform of his regiment. He has just hurled one assagai, and, as may be seen by the manner in which his dress is flying, has leaped to his present position with another assagai ready in his hand. Two soldiers are plucking out of the ground the assagais thrown by their antagonists, covering themselves with their shields while so doing. All these soldiers belong to the same regiment, as may be seen by the headdress, which constitutes their distinctive uniform.

The skill displayed by the Kaffirs in the use of this weapon is really surprising. The rapidity with which the assagais are snatched from the sheaf, poised, quivered, and hurled is almost incredible. We are told that the great mastery of the old English archers over the powerful bows which they used, was not so much owing to the personal strength of the archer, as to the manner in which he was taught to “lay his body in his bow,” and thus to manage with ease a weapon that much stronger men could not draw. In a similar manner, the skill of the Kaffir in hurling the assagai is attributable not to his bodily strength, but to the constant habit of using the weapon. As soon as a boy can fairly walk alone, he plays at spear throwing—throwing with sticks; and as he grows up, his father makes sham assagais for him, with wooden instead of iron heads. Two of these mock weapons are shown at fig. 8 in the illustration on p. 103. They exactly resemble the ordinary assagai, except that their heads are of wood; and if one of them happened to hit a man, it would inflict rather an unpleasant wound.

When the Kaffir grasps his assagai, he and the weapon seem to become one being, the quivering spear seeming instinct with life imparted to it by its wielder. In hurling it, he assumes intuitively the most graceful of attitudes, reminding the observer of some of the ancient statues, and the weapon is thrown with such seeming ease that, as a sojourner among them told me, “the man looks as if he were made of oil.” As he hurls the weapon, he presses on his foe, trying to drive him back, and at the same time to recover the spent missiles.

Sometimes, when he has not space to raise his arm, or when he wants to take his foe by surprise, he throws the assagai with a kind of underhand jerk, his arm hanging at full length. An assagai thus delivered cannot be thrown so far as by the ordinary method, but it can be propelled with considerable force, and frequently achieves the object for which it was intended. He never throws the last of the sheaf, but if he cannot succeed in picking up those that are already thrown, either by himself or his enemy, he dashes forward, and, as he closes with the foe, snaps the shaft of the assagai in the middle, throws away the tip, and uses the remaining portion as a dagger.


(See page 148.)


(See pages 104, 105.)


The wood of which the shaft is made, though very elastic, is very brittle, and a novice in the art is sure to break several of his spears before he learns to throw them properly. Unless they are rightly cast, as soon as the blade reaches the ground the shaft gives a kind of “whip” forward, and snaps short just above the blade. One of the great warrior chiefs made a singular use of this property. Just before going into action, he made his men cut the shafts of their assagais nearly across, just beyond the junction of the shaft and the head. The consequence of this ingenious ruse became evident enough when the action commenced. If the weapon went true to its mark, it pierced the body of the foe just as effectually as if nothing had been done to it; while if it missed, and struck the ground or a shield, the shaft instantly snapped, and the weapon was thereby rendered useless to the foe.

Unknowingly, the barbaric chief copied the example that was set by a Roman general nearly two thousand years ago. When Marius made war against the Cimbri, his troops carried the short heavy javelin, called the pilum. This weapon had a thick handle, to the end of which the long blade was attached by two iron rivets, one in front of the other. Before going to battle, he ordered the soldiers to remove the rivet farthest from the point, and to supply its place with a slight wooden peg, just strong enough to hold the head in its proper position as long as no force was used. When the javelin was hurled, the enemy tried to receive it on their shields; and if they succeeded in doing so, they drew out the weapon and flung it back at the foe. But as soon as the action began, the Cimbri found themselves in a sore strait. No sooner had they caught the javelin in their shields, than the slight wooden peg snapped, and allowed the shaft to dangle from the blade. Not only was the weapon useless, but it became a serious incumbrance. It could not be pulled out of the shield, as it afforded no grasp, and the heavy shaft dragged on the ground so as to force the soldier to throw away his shield, and to fight without it.

A very singular modification of the assagai was made by the terrible Tchaka, a chief who lived but for war, and was a man of wonderful intellect, dauntless courage, singular organizing power, and utterly devoid of compassion. Retaining the assagai, he altered its shape, and made it a much shorter and heavier weapon, unfit for throwing, and only to be used in a hand-to-hand encounter. After arming his troops with this modified weapon, he entirely altered the mode of warfare.

His soldiers were furnished with a very large shield and a single assagai. When they went into action, they ran in a compact body on the enemy, and as soon as the first shower of spears fell, they crouched beneath their shields, allowed the weapons to expend their force, and then sprang in for a hand-to-hand encounter. Their courage, naturally great, was excited by promises of reward, and by the certainty that not to conquer was to die. If a soldier was detected in running away, he was instantly killed by the chief, and the same punishment awaited any one who returned from battle without his spear and shield. Owing to these tactics, he raised the tribe of the Amazulu to be the most powerful in the country. He absorbed nearly sixty other tribes into his own, and extended his dominions nearly half across the continent of Africa.

He at last formed the bold conception of sweeping the whole South African coast with his armies, and extirpating the white inhabitants. But, while at the zenith of his power, he was treacherously killed by two of his brothers, Dingan and Umlangane. The two murderers fought for the kingdom on the following day, and Dingan ascended the throne over the bodies of both his brothers. The sanguinary mode of government which Tchaka had created was not likely to be ameliorated in such hands, and the name of Dingan was dreaded nearly as much as that of his brother. His successor and brother, Panda, continued to rule in the same manner, though without possessing the extraordinary genius of the mighty founder of his kingdom, and found himself obliged to form an alliance with the English, instead of venturing to make war upon them. Tchaka’s invention of the single stabbing assagai answered very well as long as the Zulus only fought against other tribes of the same country. But, when they came to encounter the Dutch Boers, it was found that the stabbing assagai was almost useless against mounted enemies, and they were obliged to return to the original form of the weapon.

If the reader will refer to the illustration which has already been mentioned, he will see two specimens of the short stabbing assagai with the large blade. A fine example of this weapon is seen at fig. 1. The reader will see that the blade is extremely wide and leaf shaped, and that the other end, or but of the spear, is decorated with a tuft of hairs taken from the tail of a cow. Another example is seen at fig. 3. The maker has bestowed great pains on this particular weapon. Just at the part where the spear balances, a piece of soft leather is formed into a sort of handle, and is finished off at either end with a ring made of the wire-like hair of the elephant’s tail. Several wide rings of the same material decorate the shaft of the weapon, and all of them are like the well-known “Turk’s-head” knot of the sailors. Fig. 6 shows another assagai, which has once had a barbed blade like that at fig. 7, but which has been so repeatedly ground that the original shape is scarcely perceptible. The spear which is drawn at fig. 13 is one of the ornamental wooden weapons which a Kaffir will use when etiquette forbids him to carry a real assagai. This particular spear is cut from one piece of wood, and is decorated according to Kaffir[106] notions of beauty, by contrasts of black and white gained by charring the wood. The ornamental work on the shaft is thus blackened, and so is one side of the broad wooden blade. The spear shown at fig. 9 is used in elephant hunting, and will be described in a future chapter.

To a Kaffir the assagai is a necessary of life. He never stirs without taking a weapon of some kind in his hand, and that weapon is generally the assagai. With it he kills his game, with it he cuts up the carcass, with it he strips off the hide, and with it he fashions the dresses worn by the women as well as the men. The ease and rapidity with which he performs these acts are really astonishing. When cutting up slaughtered cattle, he displays as much knowledge of the various cuts as the most experienced butcher, and certainly no butcher could operate more rapidly with his knife, saw, and cleaver, than does the Kaffir with his simple assagai. For every purpose wherein an European uses a knife, the Kaffir uses his assagai. With it he cuts the shafts for his weapons, and with its sharp blade he carves the wooden clubs, spoons, dishes, and pillows, and the various utensils required in his daily life.

When hurling his assagai, whether at an animal which he is hunting or at a foe, or even when exhibiting his skill to a spectator, the Kaffir becomes strongly excited, and seems almost beside himself. The sweetest sound that can greet a Kaffir’s ears is the sound of his weapon entering the object at which it was aimed, and in order to enjoy this strange gratification, he will stab a slain animal over and over again, forgetful in the excitement of the moment that every needless stab injures the hide which might be so useful to him. When the chief summons his army, and the warriors go through their extraordinary performances in his presence, they never fail to expatiate on the gratification which they shall derive from hearing their assagais strike into the bodies of their opponents.

It is rather a curious fact that the true Kaffir never uses the bow and arrow. Though nearly surrounded by tribes which use this weapon, and though often suffering in skirmishes from the poisoned arrows of the Bosjesmans, he rejects the bow in warfare, considering it to be a weapon inconsistent with the dignity of a warrior. He has but two weapons, the assagai and the club, and he wields the second as skilfully as the first. The clubs used by the Kaffir tribes are extremely variable in size, and rather so in form. Some of them are more than six feet in length, while some are only fourteen or fifteen inches. But they all agree in one point, namely, that they are straight, or, at all events, are intended to be so; and that one end is terminated by a knob. They are popularly known as “knob-kerries.”

In order to show the extreme difference of size that is found among them, several specimens are figured in the illustration on page 103. Three specimens are seen at fig. 10. That on the right hand is used as a weapon, and is wielded in a very curious manner. Not only can it be employed as a weapon with which an opponent can be struck, but it is also used as a missile, sometimes being flung straight at the antagonist, and sometimes thrown on the ground in such a manner that its elasticity causes it to rebound and strike the enemy from below instead of from above. The Australian savages possess clubs of a similar shape, and also employ the ricochet. The other two kerries are not meant as weapons.

It is contrary to etiquette for a Kaffir to carry an assagai when he enters the hut of a superior, and he therefore exchanges the weapon for the innocent kerrie. And it is also contrary to etiquette to use the real assagai in dances. But, as in their dances the various operations of warfare and hunting are imitated, it is necessary for the performers to have something that will take the place of an assagai, and they accordingly provide themselves with knob-kerries about the same length as the weapons whose place they supply.

One very common form of the short knob-kerrie is shown at fig. 14. This weapon is only twenty inches in length, and can be conveniently carried in the belt. At close quarters it can be used as a club, but it is more frequently employed as a missile.

The Kaffir is so trained from infancy to hurl his weapons that he always prefers those which can be thrown. The force and precision with which the natives will fling these short kerries is really astonishing. If Europeans were to go after birds, and provide themselves with knobbed sticks instead of guns, they would bring home but very little game. Yet a Kaffir takes his knob-kerries as a matter of course, when he goes after the bustard, the quail, or other birds, and seldom returns without success.

The general plan is for two men to hunt in concert. They walk some fifty yards apart, and when they come to any spot which seems a likely place for game, they rest their kerries on their right shoulders, so as to lose no time in drawing back the hand when they wish to fling the weapon. As soon as a bird rises, they simultaneously hurl their kerries at it, one always aiming a little above the bird, and the other a little below. If, then, the bird catches sight of the upper club, and dives down to avoid it, the lower club takes effect, while, if it rises from the lower kerrie, it falls a victim to the upper. This plan is wonderfully efficacious, as I have proved by personal experience. One of my friends and myself determined to try whether we could kill game in the Kaffir fashion. So we cut some knobbed sticks,[107] and started off in search of snipe. As soon as a snipe rose, we flung the stick at it, and naturally missed, as it was quite beyond the range of any missile propelled by hand. However, marking the spot where it alighted, we started it afresh, and by repeating this process, we got sufficiently near to bring it within the compass of our powers, and succeeded in knocking it down.

Generally the short, thick, heavily knobbed kerrie belongs rather to the Hottentot and the Bosjesman than to the Zulu, who prefers the longer weapon, even as a missile. But it is evident that the former shape of the weapon is the original one, and that the Kaffir, who derived it from its original inventor, the Hottentot, has gradually lengthened the shaft and diminished the size of the head.

The material of which the kerrie is made is mostly wood, that of the acacia being frequently used for this purpose. The long knob-kerries of the Zulus are generally cut from the tree that is emphatically, though not euphoniously, named Stink-wood, on account of the unpleasant odor which it gives out while being worked. As soon as it is dry, this odor goes off, and not even the most sensitive nostril can be annoyed by it. The stink-wood is a species of laurel, and its scientific name is Laurus bullata. The most valuable, as well as the most durable knob-kerries are those which are cut out of rhinoceros horn, and a native can hardly be induced to part with a fine specimen for any bribe. In the first place, the very fact of possessing such an article shows that he must be a mighty hunter, and have slain a rhinoceros; and in the second place, its great efficacy, and the enormous amount of labor expended in carving out of the solid horn, endear it so much to him, that he will not part with it except for something which will tend to raise him in the eyes of his comrades. In England, a fine specimen of knob-kerrie, made from the horn of the white rhinoceros, has been known to fetch even ten pounds.

Thus much for the offensive weapons of the Zulu Kaffir. Toward the north as well as to the west of the Draakensberg Mountains, a peculiar battle-axe is used, which is evidently a modification of the barbed spear which has already been described; but the true Zulu uses no weapon except the assagai and the kerrie.




The Zulu tribe have but one piece of defensive armor, namely, the shield. The Kaffirs either are ignorant of, or despise bodily armor of any kind, not even protecting their heads by caps and helmets, but exposing their naked bodies and limbs to the weapons of the foe. The shields are always made of ox-hide, and their color denotes the department of the army to which the owner belongs. None but “men,” who are entitled to wear the head-ring, are privileged to carry white shields, while the “boys” on their promotion are furnished with black shields. Some of them have their black and white shields spotted with red or brown, this coloring denoting the particular regiment to which they belong. It will be seen, therefore, that the shield constitutes a kind of uniform, and it has more than once happened, that when the Zulu warriors have got the better of their enemies, some of the more crafty among the vanquished have contrived to exchange their own shields for those belonging to slain Zulu warriors, and have thus contrived to pass themselves off as victorious Amazulu until they could find an opportunity of making their escape.

The double row of black marks down the centre of the shield (see Goza’s, page 117,) is an addition which is invariably found in these weapons of war, and serves partly as an ornament, and partly as a convenient mode for fastening the handle. In ornamenting the shield with these marks, the Kaffir cuts a double row of slits along the shield while it is still wet and pliant, and then passes strips of black hide in and out through the slits, so as to make the black of the strip contrast itself boldly with the white of the shield.

The handle of the Kaffir’s shield is quite unique. Instead of being a mere loop or projection in the centre of the shield, it is combined with a stick which runs along the centre of the shield, and is long enough to project at both ends. This stick serves several purposes, its chief use being to strengthen the shield and keep it stiff, and its second object being to assist the soldier in swinging it about in the rapid manner which is required in the Kaffir’s mode of fighting and dancing. The projection at the lower end is used as a rest, on which the shield can stand whenever the warrior is tired of carrying it in his arms, and the shield ought to be just so tall that, when the owner stands erect, his eyes can just look over the top of the shield, while the[109] end of the stick reaches to the crown of his head. It will be seen that the upper end of the stick has an ornament upon it. This is made of the furry skin of some animal, which is cut into strips just like those which are used for the “tails,” and the strips wound upon the stick in a drum-like shape.

If the reader will refer to the illustration on p. 57, entitled “Kaffirs at Home,” he will see three of these shield-sticks placed in the fence of the cattle-fold, ready to be inserted in the shield whenever they are wanted.

At each side of the shield there is a slight indentation, the object of which is not very clear, unless it be simple fashion. It prevails to a large extent throughout many parts of Africa, in some places being comparatively slight, and in others so deep that the shield looks like a great hour-glass. Although the shield is simply made of the hide of an ox, and without that elaborate preparation with glue and size which strengthens the American Indian’s shield, the native finds it quite sufficient to guard him against either spear or club, while those tribes which employ the bow find that their weapons can make but little impression on troops which are furnished with such potent defences. The Bosjesmans, and all the tribes which use poisoned arrows, depend entirely on the virulence of the poison, and not on the force with which the arrow is driven, so that their puny bow and slender arrows are almost useless against foes whose whole bodies are covered by shields, from which the arrows recoil as harmlessly as if they were bucklers of iron.

As is the case in more civilized communities, the shields, which constitute the uniforms, are not the private property of the individual soldier, but are given out by the chief. Moreover, it seems that the warlike chief Dingan would not grant shields to any young soldier until he had shown himself worthy of wearing the uniform of his sovereign. The skins of all the cattle in the garrison towns belong of right to the king, and are retained by him for the purpose of being made into shields, each skin being supposed to furnish two shields—a large one, and a small, or hunting shield. Men are constantly employed in converting hides into shields, which are stored in houses devoted to the purpose.

Captain Gardiner gives an interesting account of an application for shields made by a party of young soldiers, and their reception by the king. It must be first understood that Dingan was at the time in his chief garrison town, and that he was accompanied by his two favorite Indoonas, or petty chiefs, one of whom, by name Tambooza, was a singularly cross-grained individual, whose chief delight was in fault finding. After mentioning that a chief, named Georgo, had travelled to the king’s palace, at the head of a large detachment, for the purpose of asking for shields, he proceeded as follows:—

“Their arrival at the principal gate of the town having been notified to the king, an order was soon after sent for their admission, when they all rushed up with a shout, brandishing their sticks in a most violent manner, until within a respectable distance of the Issigordlo, when they halted. Dingan soon mounted his pedestal and showed himself over the fence, on which a simultaneous greeting of ‘Byāte!’ ran through the line into which they were now formed. He soon disappeared, and the whole party then seated themselves on the ground they occupied. Dingan shortly after came out, the two Indoonas and a number of his great men having already arrived, and seated themselves in semi-circular order on each side of his chair, from whom he was, however, removed to a dignified distance. Tambooza, who is the great speaker on all these occasions, and the professed scolder whenever necessity requires, was now on his legs; to speak publicly in any other posture would, I am convinced, be painful to a Zulu; nor is he content with mere gesticulation—actual space is necessary; I had almost said sufficient for a cricket ball to bound in, but this would be hyperbole—a run, however, he must have, and I have been surprised at the grace and effect which this novel accompaniment to the art of elocution has often given to the point and matter of the discourse.

“In this character Tambooza is inimitable, and shone especially on the present occasion, having doubtless been instructed by the king, in whose name he addressed Georgo and his party, to interlard his oration with as many pungent reproofs and cutting invectives as his fertile imagination could invent, or his natural disposition suggest. On a late expedition, it appears that the troops now harangued had not performed the service expected—they had entered the territory of Umselekaz, and, instead of surrounding and capturing the herds within their reach, had attended to some pretended instructions to halt and return; some palliating circumstances had no doubt screened them from the customary rigor on such occasions, and this untoward occurrence was now turned to the best advantage. After a long tirade, in which Tambooza ironically described their feeble onset and fruitless effort, advancing like a Mercury to fix his part, and gracefully retiring as though to point a fresh barb for the attack; now slaking his wrath by a journey to the right, and then as abruptly recoiling to the left, by each detour increasing in vehemence, the storm was at length at its height, and in the midst of the tempest he had stirred he retired to the feet[110] of his sovereign, who, I remarked, could scarcely refrain from smiling at many of the taunting expressions that were used.

“Georgo’s countenance can better be imagined than described at this moment. Impatient to reply, he now rose from the centre of the line, his person decorated with strings of pink beads worn over his shoulders like a cross belt, and large brass rings on his arms and throat. ‘Amanka’ (it is false), was the first word he uttered. The various chivalrous deeds of himself and his men were then set forth in the most glowing colors, and a scene ensued which I scarcely know how to describe. Independent of his own energetic gesticulations, his violent leaping and sententious running; on the first announcement of any exculpatory fact indicating their prowess in arms, one or more of the principal warriors would rush from the ranks to corroborate the statement by a display of muscular power in leaping, charging, and pantomimic conflict, which quite made the ground to resound under their feet; alternately leaping and galloping (for it is not running) until, frenzied by the tortuous motion, their nerves were sufficiently strong for the acme posture—vaulting several feet in the air, drawing the knees toward the chin, and at the same time passing the hands between the ankles. (See illustration No. 2 on page opposite.)

“In this singular manner were the charges advanced and rebutted for a considerable time; Dingan acting behind the scenes as a moderator, and occasionally calling off Tambooza as an unruly bull-dog from the bait. At length, as though imperceptibly drawn into the argument, he concluded the business in these words:—‘When have we heard anything good of Georgo? What has Georgo done? It is a name that is unknown to us. I shall give you no shields until you have proved yourself worthy of them; go and bring me some cattle from Umselekaz, and then shields shall be given you.’ A burst of applause rang from all sides on this unexpected announcement; under which, in good taste, the despot made his exit, retiring into the Issogordlo, while bowls of beer were served out to the soldiers, who with their Indoon were soon after observed marching over the hills, on their way to collect the remainder of their regiment, for the promised expedition.

“I am inclined to think that there was much of state policy in the whole of these proceedings, particularly as the order for the attack on Umselekaz was shortly after countermanded, and not more than ten or twelve days elapsed before the same party returned, and received their shields. At this time I was quietly writing in my hut; one of the shield houses adjoined; and I shall never forget the unceremonious rush they made. Not contented with turning them all out, and each selecting one, but, in order to prove them and shake off the dust, they commenced beating them on the spot with sticks, which, in connection with this sudden incursion, occasioned such an unusual tumult that I thought a civil war had commenced.”

Having now seen the weapons used by the Kaffir warriors, we will see how they wage war.

When the chief arranges his troops in order of battle, he places the “boys” in the van, and gives them the post of honor, as well as of danger. In this position they have the opportunity of distinguishing themselves for which they so earnestly long, and, as a general rule, display such valor that it is not very easy to pick out those who have earned especial glory. Behind them are arranged the “men” with their white shields. These have already established their reputation, and do not require further distinction. They serve a double purpose. Firstly, they act as a reserve in case the front ranks of the “black-shields” should be repulsed, and, being men of more mature age, oppose an almost impregnable front to the enemy, while the “black-shields” can re-form their ranks under cover, and then renew the charge. The second object is, that they serve as a very effectual incitement to the young men to do their duty. They know that behind them is a body of skilled warriors, who are carefully noting all their deeds, and they are equally aware that if they attempt to run away they will be instantly killed by the “white-shields” in their rear. As has already been mentioned, the dearest wish of a young Kaffir’s heart is to become a “white-shield” himself, and there is no prouder day of his life than that in which he bears for the first time the white war shield on his arm, the “isikoko” on his head, and falls into the ranks with those to whom he has so long looked up with admiration and envy.

In order to incite the “black-shields” to the most strenuous exertions, their reward is promised to them beforehand. Just before they set out on their expedition, the young unmarried girls of the tribe are paraded before them, and they are told that each who succeeds in distinguishing himself before the enemy shall be presented with one of those damsels for a wife when he returns. So he does not only receive the barren permission to take a wife, and thus to enrol himself among the men, but the wife is presented to him without pay, his warlike deeds being considered as more than an equivalent for the cows which he would otherwise have been obliged to pay for her.


(See page 102.)

(See page 110.)


A curious custom prevails in the households of the white-shield warriors. When one of them goes out to war, his wife takes his sleeping mat, his pillow, and his spoon, and hangs them upon the wall of the hut. Every morning at early dawn she goes and inspects them with loving anxiety, and looks to see whether they cast a shadow or not. As long as they do so, she knows that her husband is alive; but if no shadow should happen to be thrown by them, she feels certain that her husband is dead, and laments his loss as if she had actually seen his dead body. This curious custom irresistibly reminds the reader of certain tales in the “Arabian Nights,” where the life or death of an absent person is known by some object that belonged to him—a knife, for example—which dripped blood as soon as its former owner was dead.

Before Tchaka’s invention of the heavy stabbing-assagai, there was rather more noise than execution in a Kaffir battle, the assagais being received harmlessly on the shields, and no one much the worse for them. But his trained troops made frightful havoc among the enemy, and the destruction was so great, that the Zulus were said to be not men, but eaters of men. The king’s place was in the centre of the line, and in the rear, so that he could see all the proceedings with his own eyes, and could give directions, from time to time, to the favored councillors who were around him, and who acted as aides-de-camp, executing their commissions at their swiftest pace, and then returning to take their post by the sacred person of their monarch.

The commander of each regiment and section of a regiment was supposed to be its embodiment, and on him hung all the blame if it suffered a repulse. Tchaka made no allowance whatever for superior numbers on the part of the enemy, and his warriors knew well that, whatever might be the force opposed to them, they had either to conquer or to die; and, as it was better to die fighting than to perish ignominiously as cowards after the battle, they fought with a frantic valor that was partly inherent in their nature, and was partly the result of the strict and sanguinary discipline under which they fought. After the battle, the various officers are called out, and questioned respecting the conduct of the men under their command. Reward and retribution are equally swift in operation, an immediate advance in rank falling to the lot of those who had shown notable courage, while those who have been even suspected of cowardice are immediately slain.

Sometimes the slaughter after an expedition is terrible, even under the reign of Panda, a very much milder man than his great predecessor. Tchaka has been known to order a whole regiment for execution; and on one occasion he killed all the “white-shields,” ordering the “boys” to assume the head-ring, and take the positions and shields of the slain. Panda, however, is not such a despot as Tchaka, and, indeed, does not possess the irresponsible power of that king. No one ever dared to interfere with Tchaka, knowing that to contradict him was certain death. But when Panda has been disposed to kill a number of his subjects his councillors have interfered, and by their remonstrances have succeeded in stopping the massacre.

Sometimes these wars are carried on in the most bloodthirsty manner, and not only the soldiers in arms, but the women, the old and the young, fall victims to the assagais and clubs of the victorious enemy. Having vanquished the foe, they press on toward the kraals, spearing all the inhabitants, and carrying off all the cattle. Indeed, the “lifting” of cattle on a large scale often constitutes the chief end of a Kaffir war.

Before starting on an expedition the soldiers undergo a series of ceremonies, which are supposed to strengthen their bodies, improve their courage, and propitiate the spirits of their forefathers in their favor. The ceremony begins with the king, who tries to obtain some article belonging to the person of the adverse chief, such as a scrap of any garment that he has worn, a snuff box, the shaft of an assagai, or, indeed, anything that has belonged to him. A portion of this substance is scraped into certain medicines prepared by the witch doctor, and the king either swallows the medicine, or cuts little gashes on different parts of his body, and rubs the medicine into them. This proceeding is supposed to give dominion over the enemy, and is a sign that he will be “eaten up” in the ensuing battle. So fearful are the chiefs that the enemy may thus overcome them, that they use the most minute precautions to prevent any articles belonging to themselves from falling into the hands of those who might make a bad use of them. When a chief moves his quarters, even the floor of his hut is carefully scraped; and Dingan was so very particular on this point that he has been known to burn down an entire kraal, after he left it, in order that no vestige of anything that belonged to himself should fall into evil hands.

After the king, the men take their turn of duty, and a very unpleasant duty it is. An ox is always slain, and one of its legs cut off; and this extraordinary ceremony is thought to be absolutely needful for a successful warfare. Sometimes the limb is severed from the unfortunate animal while it is still alive. On one occasion the witch doctor conceived the brilliant idea of cutting off the leg of a living bull, and then making the warriors eat it raw, tearing the flesh from the bone with their teeth. They won the battle, but the witch doctor got more credit for his powerful charms than did the troops for their courage.

Of course the animal cannot survive very long after such treatment; and when it is dead, the flesh is cut away with assagais,[114] and a part of it chopped into small morsels, in each of which is a portion of some charmed powder. The uncleared bones are thrown among the warriors, scrambled for, and eaten; and when this part of the ceremony has been concluded, the remainder of the flesh is cooked and eaten. A curious process then takes place, a kind of purification by fire, the sparks from a burning brand being blown over them by the witch doctor. Next day they are treated to a dose which acts as a violent emetic; and the ceremonies conclude with a purification by water, which is sprinkled over them by the chief himself. These wild and savage ceremonies have undoubtedly a great influence over the minds of the warriors, who fancy themselves to be under the protection of their ancestors, the only deities which a Kaffir seems to care much about.

As to the department of the commissariat, it varies much with the caprice of the chief. Tchaka always used to send plenty of cattle with his armies, so that they never need fear the weakening of their forces by hunger. He also sent very large supplies of grain and other food. His successors, however, have not been so generous, and force their troops to provide for themselves by foraging among the enemy.

Cattle are certainly taken with them, but not to be eaten. In case they may be able to seize the cattle of the enemy, they find that the animals can be driven away much more easily if they are led by others of their own kind. The cattle that accompany an expedition are therefore employed as guides. They sometimes serve a still more important purpose. Clever as is a Kaffir in finding his way under ordinary circumstances, there are occasions where even his wonderful topographical powers desert him. If, for example, he is in an enemy’s district, and is obliged to travel by night, he may well lose his way, if the nights should happen to be cloudy, and neither moon nor stars be visible; and, if he has a herd of the enemy’s oxen under his charge, he feels himself in a very awkward predicament. He dares not present himself at his kraal without the oxen, or his life would be instantly forfeited; and to drive a herd of oxen to a place whose position he does not know would be impossible. He therefore allows the oxen that he has brought with him to go their own way, and merely follows in their track, knowing that their instinct will surely guide them to their home.

When the Kaffir soldiery succeed in capturing a kraal, their first care is to secure the oxen; and if the inhabitants should have been prudent enough to remove their much loved cattle, their next search is for maize, millet, and other kinds of corn. It is not a very easy matter to find the grain stores, because they are dug in the ground, and, after being filled, are covered over so neatly with earth, that only the depositors know the exact spot. The “isi-baya” is a favorite place for these subterranean stores, because the trampling of the cattle soon obliterates all marks of digging. The isi-baya is, therefore, the first place to be searched: and in some cases the inhabitants have concealed their stores so cleverly that the invaders could not discover them by any other means except digging up the whole of the enclosure to a considerable depth. Now and then, when the inhabitants of a kraal have received notice that the enemy is expected, they remove the grain from the storehouses, and hide it in the bush, closing the granaries again, so as to give the enemy all the trouble of digging, to no purpose.

Panda, who refuses to send provisions with his forces, has sometimes caused them to suffer great hardships by his penurious conduct. On one occasion they discovered a granary with plenty of corn in it, and were so hungry that they could not wait to cook it properly, but ate it almost raw, at the same time drinking large quantities of water. The consequence was, that many of them were so ill that they had to be left behind when the march was resumed, and were detected and killed by the inhabitants of the kraal, who came back from their hiding places in the bush as soon as they saw the enemy move away. In one case, Panda’s army was so badly supplied with provisions that the soldiers were obliged to levy contributions even on his own villages. In some of these kraals the women, who expected what might happen, had emptied their storehouses, and hidden all their food in the bush, so that the hungry soldiers could not even find some corn to grind into meal, nor clotted milk to mix with it. They were so angry at their disappointment that they ransacked the cattle-fold, discovered and robbed the subterranean granaries, and, after cooking as much food as they wanted, carried off a quantity of corn for future rations, and broke to pieces all the cooking vessels which they had used. If they could act thus in their own country, their conduct in an enemy’s land may be easily conjectured.

One reason for the withholding of supplies may probably be due to the mode of fighting of the Zulu armies. They are entirely composed of light infantry, and can be sent to great distances with a rapidity that an ordinary European soldier can scarcely comprehend. The fact is, they carry nothing except their weapons, and have no heavy knapsack nor tight clothing to impede their movements. In fact, the clothing which they wear on a campaign is more for ornament than for covering, and consists chiefly of feathers stuck in the hair. So careful are the chiefs that their soldiers should not be impeded by baggage of any kind, that they are not even allowed to take a kaross with[115] them, but must sleep in the open air without any covering, just as is the case with the guardians of the harem, who are supposed, by virtue of their office, to be soldiers engaged in a campaign.

As to pay, as we understand the word, neither chief nor soldiers have much idea of it. If the men distinguish themselves, the chief mostly presents them with beads and blankets, not as pay to which they have a right, but as a gratuity for which they are indebted to his generosity. As to the “boys,” they seldom have anything, being only on their promotion, and not considered as enjoying the privileges of manhood. This custom is very irritating to the “boys,” some of whom are more than thirty years of age, and who consider themselves quite as effective members of the army as those who have been permitted to wear the head-ring and bear the white shield. Their dissatisfaction with their rank has, however, the good effect of making them desirous of becoming “ama-doda,” and thus increasing their value in time of action.

Sometimes this distinction of rank breaks out in open quarrel, and on one occasion the “men” and the “boys” came to blows with each other, and would have taken to their spears if Panda and his councillors had not personally quelled the tumult. The fact was, that Panda had organized an invasion, and, as soon as they heard of it, the black-shield regiment begged to be sent off at once to the scene of battle. The white-shields, however, suspected what was really the case; namely, that the true destination of the troops was not that which the king had mentioned, and accordingly sat silent, and took no part in the general enthusiasm. Thereupon the “boys” taunted the “men” with cowardice, and said that they preferred their comfortable homes to the hardships of warfare. The “men” retorted that, as they had fought under Tchaka and Dingan, as well as Panda, and had earned their advancement under the eye of chiefs who killed all who did not fight bravely, no one could accuse them of cowardice; whereas the “boys” were ignorant of warfare, and were talking nonsense. These remarks were too true to be pleasant, and annoyed the “boys” so much that they grew insolent, and provoked the “men” to take to their sticks. However, instead of yielding, the “boys” only returned the blows, and if Panda had not interfered, there would have been a serious riot.

His conduct on this occasion shows the strange jealousy which possesses the mind of a Kaffir king. The “men” were, in this case, undoubtedly right, and the “boys” undoubtedly wrong. Yet Panda took the part of the latter, because he was offended with the argument of the “men.” They ought not to have mentioned his predecessors, Tchaka and Dingan, in his presence, as the use of their names implied a slight upon himself. They might have prided themselves as much as they liked, in the victories which they had gained under him, but they had no business to mention the warlike deeds of his predecessors. Perhaps he remembered that those predecessors had been murdered by their own people, and might have an uneasy fear that his own turn would come some day. So he showed his displeasure by sending oxen to the “boys” as a feast, and leaving the “men” without any food. Of course, in the end the “men” had to yield, and against their judgment went on the campaign. During that expedition the smouldering flame broke out several times, the “boys” refusing to yield the post of honor to the “men,” whom they taunted with being cowards and afraid to fight. However, the more prudent counsels of the “men” prevailed, and harmony was at last restored, the “men” and the “boys” dividing into two brigades, and each succeeding in the object for which they set out, without needlessly exposing themselves to danger by attacking nearly impregnable forts.

We will now proceed to the soldiers themselves, and see how the wonderful discipline of a Kaffir army is carried out in detail. First we will examine the dress of the soldier. Of course, the chief, who is the general in command, will have the place of honor, and we will therefore take the portrait of a well-known Zulu chief as he appears when fully equipped for war. If the reader will refer to page 117, No. 1, he will see a portrait of Goza in the costume which he ordinarily wears. The illustration No. 2, same page, represents him in full uniform, and affords a favorable example of the war dress of a powerful Kaffir chief. He bears on his left arm his great white war shield, the size denoting its object, and the color pointing out the fact that he is a married man. The long, slender feather which is fastened in his head-ring is that of the South African crane, and is a conventional symbol denoting war. There is in my collection a very remarkable war headdress, that was worn by the celebrated Zulu chief, Sandilli, who gave the English so much trouble during the Kaffir war, and proved himself worthy of his rank as a warrior, and his great reputation as an orator. Sandilli was further remarkable because he had triumphed over physical disadvantages, which are all-important in a Kaffir’s eyes.

It has already been mentioned that a deformed person is scarcely ever seen among the Kaffirs, because infants that show signs of deformity of any kind are almost invariably killed as soon as born. Sandilli was one of these unfortunate children, one of his legs being withered as high as the knee, so that he was deprived of all that physical agility[116] that is so greatly valued by Kaffirs, and which has so great a share in gaining promotion. By some strange chance the life of this deformed infant was preserved, and, under the now familiar name of Sandilli, the child grew to be a man, rose to eminence among his own people, took rank as a great chief, and became a very thorn in the sides of the English colonists. After many years of struggle, he at last gave in his submission to English rule, and might be often seen on horseback, dashing about in the headlong style which a Kaffir loves.

The headdress which he was accustomed to wear in time of war is represented in “articles of costume,” page 33, at fig. 4. Instead of wearing a single feather of the crane, Sandilli took the whole breast of the bird, from which the long, slender feathers droop. The skin has been removed from the breast, bent and worked so as to form a kind of cap, and the feathers arranged so that they shall all point upward, leaning rather backward. This curious and valuable headdress was presented to me by G. Ellis, Esq., who brought it from the Cape in 1865. Sandilli belongs to the sub-tribe Amagaika, and is remarkable for his very light color and commanding stature.

It will be seen that both Goza and his councillors wear plenty of feathers on their heads, and that the cap of the left-hand warrior bears some resemblance to that which has just been described. The whole person of the chief is nearly covered with barbaric ornaments. His apron is made of leopards’ tails, and his knees and ankles are decorated with tufts made of the long flowing hair of the Angora goat. Twisted strips of rare furs hang from his neck and chest, while his right hand holds the long knob-kerrie which is so much in use among the Zulu warriors. The portrait of Goza is taken from a photograph. The councillors who stand behind him are apparelled with nearly as much gorgeousness as their chief, and the odd-shaped headdresses which they wear denote the regiments to which they happen to belong. These men, like their chief, were photographed in their full dress.

It has already been mentioned that the soldiers are divided into two great groups; namely, the married men and the bachelors, or, as they are popularly called, the “men” and the “boys.” But each of these great groups, or divisions, if we may use that word in its military sense, is composed of several regiments, varying from six hundred to a thousand or more in strength. Each of these regiments inhabits a single military kraal, or garrison town, and is commanded by the headman of that kraal. Moreover, the regiments are subdivided into companies, each of which is under the command of an officer of lower grade; and so thoroughly is this system carried out, that European soldiers feel almost startled when they find that these savages have organized a system of army management nearly identical with their own. The regiments are almost invariably called by the name of some animal, and the soldiers are placed in them according to their physical characteristics. Thus, the Elephant regiment consists of the largest and strongest warriors, and holds a position like that of our Grenadiers. Then the Lion regiment is composed of men who have distinguished themselves by special acts of daring; while the Springbok regiment would be formed of men noted for their activity, for the quickness with which they can leap about when encumbered with their weapons, and for their speed of foot, and ability to run great distances. They correspond with our light cavalry, and are used for the same purpose.

There are twenty-six of these regiments in the Zulu army, and they can be as easily distinguished by their uniform as those of our own army. The twenty-sixth regiment is the equivalent of our household troops, being the body-guard of the king, and furnishing all the sentinels for the harem. Their uniform is easily distinguishable, and is very simple, being, in fact, an utter absence of all clothing. Only the picked men among the warriors are placed in this distinguished regiment, and neither by day nor night do they wear a scrap of clothing. This seems rather a strange method of conferring an honorable distinction; but entire nudity is quite as much valued by a Kaffir soldier as the decoration of the Bath or Victoria Cross among ourselves.

The first regiment is called Omobapankue, a word that signifies “Leopard-catchers.” Some years ago, when Tchaka was king of the Zulus, a leopard killed one of his attendants. He sent a detachment of the first regiment after the animal, and the brave fellows succeeded in catching it alive, and bearing their struggling prize to the king. In order to reward them for their courage, he gave the first regiment the honorary title of “Leopard-catchers,” which title has been ever since borne by them.

There are three commissioned officers—if such a term may be used—in each regiment: namely the colonel, or “Indoona-e’nkolu,” i. e. the Great Officer; the captain, “N’genana,” and the lieutenant, “N’gena-obzana.” The headman of any kraal goes by the name of Indoona, and he who rules over one of the great garrison towns is necessarily a man of considerable authority and high rank. The king’s councillors are mostly selected from the various Indoonas. Below the lieutenant, there are subordinate officers who correspond almost exactly to the sergeants and corporals of our own armies.


(See page 115.)

(See page 115.)


In order to distinguish the men of the different regiments, a peculiar headdress is assigned to each regiment. On these headdresses the natives seem to have exercised all their ingenuity. The wildest fancy would hardly conceive the strange shapes that a Kaffir soldier can make with feathers, and fur, and raw hide. Any kind of feather is seized upon to do duty in a Kaffir soldier’s headdress, but the most valued plumage is that of a roller, whose glittering dress of blue green is worked up into large globular tufts, which are worn upon the back of the head, and on the upper part of the forehead. Such an ornament as this is seldom if ever seen upon the head of a simple warrior, as it is too valuable to be possessed by any but a chief of consideration. Panda is very fond of wearing this beautiful ornament on occasions of state, and sometimes wears two at once, the one on the front of his head-ring, and the other attached to the crown of the head.

The raw hide is stripped of its fur by being rolled up and buried for a day or two, and is then cut and moulded into the most fantastic forms, reminding the observer of the strange devices with which the heroes of the Niebelungen decorated their helmets. Indeed, some of these headdresses of the Kaffir warriors might easily be mistaken at a little distance for the more classical though not more elaborate helmet of the ancient German knights. The soldiers which are here represented belong to two different regiments of the Zulu army, and have been selected as affording good examples of the wild and picturesque uniform which is adopted by these dusky troops. In some headdresses the fur is retained on the skin, and thus another effect is obtained.

The object of all this savage decoration is twofold: firstly, to distinguish the soldiers of the different regiments, and, secondly to strike terror into the enemy. Both their objects are very thoroughly accomplished, for the uniforms of the twenty-six regiments are very dissimilar to each other, and all the neighboring tribes stand in the greatest dread of the Amazulu, who, they say, are not men, but eaters of men.

Beside the regular regiments, there is always a body-guard of armed men whose duty it is to attend the chief and obey his orders. Each chief has his own body-guard, but that of the king is not only remarkable for its numerical strength, but for the rank of its members. Dingan, for example, had a body-guard that mustered several hundred strong, and every member of it was a man of rank. It was entirely composed of Indoonas from all parts of the country under his command. With the admirable organizing power which distinguishes the Kaffir chiefs, he had arranged his Indoonas so methodically, that each man had to serve in the body-guard for a certain time, until he was relieved by his successor. This simple plan allowed the king to exercise a personal supervision over the ruling men of his dominions, and, on the other side, the subordinate chiefs were able to maintain a personal communication with their monarch, and to receive their orders directly from himself.

It has already been mentioned that, after a battle, the king calls his soldiers together, and holds a review. One of these assemblages is a most astonishing sight, and very few Europeans have been privileged to see it. This review is looked upon by the troops with the greatest reverence, for few of them know whether at the close of it they may be raised to a higher rank or be lying dead in the bush. As to the “boys,” especially those who are conscious that they have behaved well in the fight, they look to it with hope, as it presents a chance of their elevation to the ranks of the “men,” and their possession of the coveted white shield. Those who are not so sure of themselves are very nervous about the review, and think themselves extremely fortunate if they are not pointed out to the king as bad soldiers, and executed on the spot.

The review takes place in the great enclosure of one of the garrison towns, and the troops form themselves into a large circle. It is a curious fact that not even in military matters has the Kaffir an idea of forming in line, and that the evolutions, such as they are, are all carried out in curved lines, which are the abhorrence of European tacticians. The white and black shield divisions are separated from each other in each regiment, and the whole army “stands at ease,” with the shield resting on the ground, and the whole body covered by it as high as the lips. They stand motionless as statues, and in death-like silence await the coming of their king.

After the customary lapse of one hour or so, the king, with his councillors, chief officers, and particular friends, comes into the circle, attended by his chair bearer, his shield bearer, his page, and a servant or two. The shield bearer has an honorable, though perilous, service to perform. He has to hold the shield so as to shade the royal person from the sun, and should he happen, through any inadvertence, to allow the king to feel a single sunbeam, he may think himself fortunate if he escape with his life, while a severe punishment is the certain result.

The chair is placed in the centre of the circle, in order for his sable majesty to repose himself after the exertion of walking nearly two hundred yards. Large baskets full of beer are placed near the royal chair, and before he can proceed to business the king is obliged to recruit his energies with beer and snuff, both of which are handed to him by his pages.

He next orders a number of cattle to be driven past him, and points to certain animals[120] which he intends to be killed in honor of his guests. As each ox is pointed out, a warrior leaps forward with his stabbing-assagai, and kills the animal with a single blow, piercing it to the heart with the skill of a practised hand. Much as a Kaffir loves his oxen, the sight of the dying animal always seems to excite him to a strange pitch of enthusiasm, and the king contemplates with great satisfaction the dying oxen struggling in the last pangs of death, and the evolutions of the survivors, who snuff and snort at the blood of their comrades, and then dash wildly away in all directions, pursued by their keepers, and with difficulty guided to their own enclosures. The king then rises, and, with the assistance of his attendants, walks, or rather waddles, round the inner ring of warriors as fast as his obesity will permit him, resting every now and then on his chair, which is carried after him by his page, and refreshing himself at rather short intervals with beer.

Next comes the most important part of the proceedings. The chief officers of the various regiments that have been engaged give in their reports to the king, who immediately acts upon them. When a warrior has particularly distinguished himself, the king points to him, and calls him by name. Every man in the army echoes the name at the full pitch of his voice, and every arm is pointed at the happy soldier, who sees his ambition as fully gratified as it is possible to be. Almost beside himself with exultation at his good fortune, he leaps from the ranks, “and commences running, leaping, springing high into the air, kicking, and flourishing his shield, and going through the most surprising and agile manœuvres imaginable; now brandishing his weapons, stabbing, parrying, and retreating; and again vaulting into the ranks, light of foot and rigid of muscle, so rapidly that the eye can scarcely follow his evolutions.” Sometimes six or seven of these distinguished warriors will be dancing simultaneously in different parts of the ring, while their companions encourage them with shouts and yells of applause. Many of the “boys” are at these reviews permitted to rank among the “men,” and sometimes, when a whole regiment of the black-shields has behaved especially well, the king has ordered them all to exchange their black for the white shield, and to assume the head-ring which marks their rank as ama-doda, or “men.”

Next come the terrible scenes when the officers point out those who have disgraced themselves in action. The unfortunate soldiers are instantly dragged out of the ranks, their shields and spears taken from them, and, at the king’s nod, they are at once killed and their bodies thrown into the bush. Sometimes they are beaten to death with knob-kerries, and sometimes their necks are twisted by the executioner laying one hand on the crown of the head and the other under the chin. The wretched sufferers never think of resisting, nor even of appealing for mercy; and to such a pitch of obedience did Tchaka bring this fierce and warlike nation, that men guiltless of any offence have been known to thank him for their punishment while actually dying under the strokes of the executioners.

When the double business of rewarding the brave soldiers and punishing the cowards has been completed, the professional minstrels or praisers come forward, and recite the various honorary titles of the king in a sort of recitative, without the least pause between the words, and in most stentorian voices. Perhaps the term Heralds would not be very inappropriate to these men. The soldiers take up the chorus of praise, and repeat the titles of their ruler in shouts that are quite deafening to an unaccustomed ear. Each title is assumed or given to the king in commemoration of some notable deed, or on account of some fancy that may happen to flit through the royal brain in a dream; and, as he is continually adding to his titles, the professional reciters had need possess good memories, as the omission of any of them would be considered as an insult.

Some of Panda’s titles have already been mentioned, but some of the others are so curious that they ought not to be omitted. For example, he is called “Father of men,” i. e. the ama-doda, or married warriors; “He who lives forever”—a compliment on his surviving the danger of being killed by Dingan; “He who is high as the mountains”—“He who is high as the heavens”—this being evidently the invention of a clever courtier who wished to “cap” the previous compliment; “Elephant’s calf;” “Great black one;” “Bird that eats other birds”—in allusion to his conquests in battle; “Son of a cow;” “Noble elephant,” and a hundred other titles, equally absurd in the mind of a European, but inspiring great respect in that of a Kaffir.

When all this tumultuous scene is over, the review closes, just as our reviews do, with a “march past.” The king sits in his chair, as a general on his horse, while the whole army defiles in front of him, each soldier as he passes bowing to the ground, and lowering his shield and assagais, as we droop our colors in the presence of the sovereign. In order to appear to the best advantage on these occasions, and to impress the spectators with the solemnity of the ceremony, the king dresses himself with peculiar care, and generally wears a different costume at each review. The dress which he usually wears at his evening receptions, when his officers come to report themselves and to accompany him in his daily inspection of his herds, is the usual apron or kilt, made either of leopard’s tails or monkey’s skin, a headdress composed of various feathers and a round ball of clipped worsted, while his arms are decorated with rings of brass and ivory.


(See page 120.)

(See page 135.)


It is easy to see how this custom of holding a review almost immediately after the battle, and causing either reward or punishment to come swiftly upon the soldiers, must have added to the efficiency of the armies, especially when the system was carried out by a man like its originator Tchaka, an astute, sanguinary, determined, and pitiless despot. Under the two successive reigns of Dingan and Panda, and especially under the latter, the efficiency of the Zulu army—the eaters of men—has notably diminished, this result being probably owing to the neighborhood of the English colony at Natal, in which the Zulu warriors can find a refuge when they fear that their lives are endangered. Formerly, the men had no possible refuge, so that a Kaffir was utterly in the power of his chief, and the army was therefore more of a machine than it is at present.

Reviews such as have been described are not only held in war time, but frequently take place in times of peace. It has been mentioned that the king of the Zulu tribe has twenty-six war-kraals, or garrison towns, and he generally contrives to visit each of them in the course of the year. Each time that he honors the kraal by his presence the troops are turned out, and a review is held, though not always accompanied by the lavish distribution of rewards and punishment which distinguishes those which are held after battle.

The vicissitudes of Kaffir warfare are really remarkable from a military point of view. Originally, the only idea which the Kaffirs had of warfare was a desultory kind of skirmishing, in which each man fought “for his own hand,” and did not reckon on receiving any support from his comrades, each of whom was engaged in fight on his own account. In fact, war was little more than a succession of duels, and, if a warrior succeeded in killing the particular enemy to whom he was opposed, he immediately sought another. But the idea of large bodies of men acting in concert, and being directed by one mind, was one that had not occurred to the Kaffirs until the time of Tchaka.

When that monarch introduced a system and a discipline into warfare, the result was at once apparent. Individual skirmishers had no chance against large bodies of men, mutually supporting each other, moving as if actuated by one mind, and, under the guidance of a single leader, advancing with a swift but steady impetuosity that the undisciplined soldiers of the enemy could not resist. Discipline could not be turned against the Zulus, for Tchaka left the conquered tribes no time to organize themselves into armies, even if they had possessed leaders who were capable of that task. His troops swept over the country like an army of locusts, consuming everything on their way, and either exterminating the various tribes, or incorporating them in some capacity or other among the Zulus.

In truth, his great policy was to extend the Zulu tribe, and from a mere tribe to raise them into a nation. His object was, therefore, not so much to destroy as to absorb, and, although he did occasionally extirpate a tribe that would not accept his conditions, it was for the purpose of striking terror into others, and proving to them the futility of resistance. Those that had accepted his offers he incorporated with his own army, and subjected to the same discipline, but took care to draught them off into different regiments, so that they could not combine in a successful revolt. The result of this simple but far-seeing policy was, that in a few years the Zulu tribe, originally small, had, beside its regular regiments on duty, some twelve or fifteen thousand men always ready for any sudden expedition, and at the end of five or six years the Zulu king was paramount over the whole of Southern Africa, the only check upon him being the European colonies. These he evidently intended to sweep away, but was murdered before he could bring his scheme to maturity. Tchaka’s system was followed by Moselekatze in the north of Kaffirland, who contrived to manage so well that the bulk of his army belonged to Bechuanan and other tribes, some of whose customs he adopted.

The military system of Tchaka prevailed, as must be the case when there is no very great inequality between the opposing forces, and discipline is all on one side. But, when discipline is opposed to discipline, and the advantage of weapons lies on the side of the latter, the consequences are disastrous to the former. Thus it has been with the Kaffir tribes. The close ranks of warriors, armed with shield and spear, were irresistible when opposed to men similarly armed, but without any regular discipline, but, when they came to match themselves against fire-arms, they found that their system was of little value.

The shield could resist the assagai well enough, but against the bullet it was powerless, and though the stabbing-assagai was a terrible weapon when the foe was at close quarters, it was of no use against an enemy who could deal destruction at the distance of several hundred yards. Moreover, the close and compact ranks, which were so efficacious against the irregular warriors of the country, became an absolute element of weakness when the soldiers were exposed to heavy volleys from the distant enemy. Therefore, the whole course of battle was[124] changed when the Zulus fought against the white man and his fire-arms, and they found themselves obliged to revert to the old system of skirmishing, though the skirmishers fought under the commands of the chief, instead of each man acting independently, as had formerly been the case.

We remember how similar changes have taken place in our European armies, when the heavy columns that used to be so resistless were shattered by the fire of single ranks, and how the very massiveness of the column rendered it a better mark for the enemy’s fire, and caused almost every shot to take effect.

Tchaka was not always successful, for he forgot that cunning is often superior to force, and that the enemy’s spears are not the most dangerous weapons in his armory. The last expedition that Tchaka organized was a singularly unsuccessful one. He had first sent an army against a tribe which had long held out against him, and which had the advantage of a military position so strong that even the trained Zulu warriors, who knew that failure was death, could not succeed in taking it. Fortunately for Tchaka, some Europeans were at the time in his kraal, and he obliged them to fight on his behalf. The enemy had, up to that time, never seen nor heard of fire-arms; and when they saw their comrades falling without being visibly struck, they immediately yielded, thinking that the spirits of their forefathers were angry with them, and spat fire out of their mouths. This, indeed, was the result which had been anticipated by the bearers of the fire-arms in question, for they thought that, if the enemy were intimidated by the strange weapons, great loss of life would be saved on both sides. The battle being over, the conquered tribe were subsidized as tributaries, according to Tchaka’s custom, and all their cattle given up.

The success of this expedition incited Tchaka to repeat the experiment, and his troops had hardly returned when he sent them off against a chief named Sotshangana. This chief had a spy in the camp of Tchaka, and no sooner had the army set off than the spy contrived to detach himself from the troops, and went off at full speed to his master. Sotshangana at once sent out messengers to see whether the spy had told the truth, and when he learned that the Zulu army was really coming upon him, he laid a trap into which the too confident enemy fell at once. He withdrew his troops from his kraals, but left everything in its ordinary position, so as to look as if no alarm had been taken. The Zulu regiments, seeing no signs that their presence was expected, took possession of the kraal, feasted on its provisions, and slept in fancied security. But, at the dead of night, Sotshangana, accompanied by the spy, whom he had rewarded with the command of a regiment, came on the unsuspecting Zulus, fell upon them while sleeping, and cut one regiment nearly to pieces. The others rallied, and drove off their foes; but they were in an enemy’s country, where every hand was against them.

Their wonderful discipline availed them little. They got no rest by day or by night. They were continually harassed by attacks, sometimes of outlying skirmishers, who kept them always on the alert, sometimes of large forces of soldiers who had to be met in battle array. They could obtain no food, for the whole country was against them, and the weaker tribes, whom they attacked in order to procure provisions, drove their cattle into the bush, and set fire to their own corn-fields. It is said also, and with some likelihood of truth, that the water was poisoned as well as the food destroyed; and the consequence was, that the once victorious army was obliged to retreat as it best could, and the shattered fragments at last reached their own country, after suffering almost incredible hardships. It was in this campaign that the soldiers were obliged to eat their shields. At least twenty thousand of the Zulu warriors perished in this expedition, three-fourths having died from privation, and the others fallen by the spears of the enemy.

What would have been Tchaka’s fury at so terrible a defeat may well be imagined; but he never lived to see his conquered warriors. It is supposed, and with some show of truth, that he had been instrumental in causing the death of his own mother, Mnande. This word signifies “amiable” or “pleasant,” in the Zulu tongue, and never was a name more misapplied. She was violent, obstinate, and wilful to a degree, and her son certainly inherited these traits of his mother’s character, besides superadding a few of his own. She was the wife of the chief of the Amazulu, then a small and insignificant tribe, who lived on the banks of the White Folosi river, and behaved in such a manner that she could not be kept in her husband’s kraal. It may be imagined that such a mother and son were not likely to agree very well together; and when the latter came to be a man, he was known to beat his mother openly, without attempting to conceal the fact, but rather taking credit to himself for it.

Therefore, when she died, her family had some good grounds for believing that Tchaka had caused her to be killed, and determined on revenge. Hardly had that ill-fated expedition set out, when two of her sisters came to Dingan and Umhlangani, the brothers of Tchaka, and openly accused him of having murdered Mnande, urging the two brothers to kill him and avenge their mother’s blood. They adroitly mentioned the absence of the army, and the[125] terror in which every soldier held his bloodthirsty king, and said that if, on the return of the army, Tchaka was dead, the soldiers would be rejoiced at the death of the tyrant, and would be sure to consider as their leaders the two men who had freed them from such a yoke. The two brothers briefly answered, “Ye have spoken!” but the women seemed to know that by those words the doom of Tchaka was settled, and withdrew themselves, leaving their nephews to devise their own plans for the murder of the king.

This was no easy business. They would have tried poison, but Tchaka was much too wary to die such a death, and, as force was clearly useless, they had recourse to treachery. They corrupted the favorite servant of Tchaka, a man named Bopa, and having armed themselves with unshafted heads of assagais, which could be easily concealed, they proceeded to the king’s house, where he was sitting in conference with several of his councillors, who were unarmed, according to Kaffir etiquette. The treacherous Bopa began his task by rudely interrupting the councillors, accusing them of telling falsehoods to the king, and behaving with an amount of insolence to which he well knew they would not submit. As they rose in anger, and endeavored to seize the man who had insulted them, Dingan and Umhlangani stole behind Tchaka, whose attention was occupied by the extraordinary scene, and stabbed him in the back. He attempted to escape, but was again stabbed by Bopa, and fell dying to the ground, where he was instantly slain. The affrighted councillors tried to fly, but were killed by the same weapons that had slain their master.

This dread scene was terminated by an act partly resulting from native ferocity, and partly from superstition. The two murderers opened the still warm body of their victim, and drank the gall. Their subsequent quarrel, and the accession of Dingan to the throne, has already been mentioned. The new king would probably have been murdered by the soldiers on their return, had he not conciliated them by relaxing the strict laws of celibacy which Tchaka had enforced, and by granting indulgences of various kinds to the troops. As to the dead Mnande, the proximate cause of Tchaka’s death, more will be said on a future page.




Excepting war, there is no pursuit which is so engrossing to a Kaffir as the chase; and whether he unites with a number of his comrades in a campaign against his game, whether he pursues it singly, or whether he entices it into traps, he is wholly absorbed in the occupation, and pursues it with an enthusiasm to which a European is a stranger. Indeed, in many cases, and certainly in most instances, where a Kaffir is the hunter, the chase becomes a mimic warfare, which is waged sometimes against the strong, and sometimes against the weak; which opposes itself equally to the fierce activity of the lion, the resistless force of the elephant, the speed of the antelope, and the wariness of the zebra. The love of hunting is a necessity in such a country, which fully deserves the well-known title of the “Happy Hunting Grounds.” There is, perhaps, no country on earth where may be found such a wonderful variety of game in so small a compass, and which will serve to exercise, to the very utmost, every capacity for the chase that mankind can possess.

Southern Africa possesses the swiftest, the largest, the heaviest, the fiercest, the mightiest, and the tallest beasts in the world. The lofty mountain, the reed-clad dell, the thorny bush, the open plain, the river bank, and the very water itself, are filled with their proper inhabitants, simply on account of the variety of soil, which always produces a corresponding variety of inhabitants. The different kinds of herbage attract and sustain the animals that are suited to them; and were they to be extinct, the animals must follow in their wake. The larger carnivora are in their turn attracted by the herbivorous inhabitants of the country, and thus it happens that even a very slight modification in the vegetation has altered the whole character of a district. Mr. Moffatt has mentioned a curious instance of this fact.

He and his companions were in great jeopardy on account of a disappointed “rain-maker.” The country had originally been even remarkable for the quantity of rain which fell in it, and for its consequent fertility. The old men said that their forefathers had told them “of the floods of ancient times, the incessant showers which clothed the very rocks with verdure, and the giant trees and forests which once studded the brows of the Hamhana hills and neighboring plains. They boasted of the Kuruman and other rivers, with their impassable[127] torrents, in which the hippopotami played, while the lowing herds walked up to their necks in grass, filling their makukas (milk-sacks) with milk, making every heart to sing for joy.”

That such tales were true was proved by the numerous stumps of huge acacia-trees, that showed where the forest had stood, and by the dry and parched ravines, which had evidently been the beds of rivers, and clothed with vegetation. For the drought the missionaries were held responsible, according to the invariable custom of the rain-makers, who are only too glad to find something on which to shift the blame when no rain follows their incantations. It was in vain that Mr. Moffatt reminded them that the drought had been known long before a white man set his foot on the soil. A savage African is, as a general rule, impervious to dates, not even having the least idea of his own age, so this argument failed utterly.

The real reason was evidently that which Mr. Moffatt detected, and which he tried in vain to impress upon the inhabitants of the land. They themselves, or rather their forefathers, were responsible for the cessation of rain, and the consequent change from a fertile land into a desert. For the sake of building their kraals and houses, they had cut down every tree that their axes could fell, and those that defied their rude tools they destroyed by fire. Now it is well known that trees, especially when in full foliage, are very powerful agents in causing rain, inasmuch as they condense the moisture floating in the air, and cause it to fall to the earth, instead of passing by in suspension. Every tree that is felled has some effect in reducing the quantity of rain; and when a forest is levelled with the ground, the different amount of rainfall becomes marked at once.

These tribes are inveterate destroyers of timber. When they wish to establish themselves in a fresh spot, and build a new kraal, they always station themselves close to the forest, or at all events to a large thicket, which in the course of time is levelled to the ground, the wood having been all used for building and culinary purposes. The tribe then go off to another spot, and cut down more timber; and it is to this custom that the great droughts of Southern Africa may partly be attributed.

The game which inhabited the fallen forests is perforce obliged to move into districts where the destructive axe has not been heard, and the whole of those animals that require a continual supply of water either die off for the want of it, or find their way into more favored regions. This is specially the case with the antelopes, which form the chief game of this land. Southern Africa absolutely teems with antelopes, some thirty species of which are known to inhabit this wonderful country. They are of all sizes, from the great elands and koodoos, which rival our finest cattle in weight and stature, to the tiny species which inhabit the bush, and have bodies scarcely larger than if they were rabbits. Some of them are solitary, others may be found in small parties, others unite in herds of incalculable numbers; while there are several species that form associations, not only with other species of their own group, but with giraffes, zebras, ostriches, and other strange companions. Each kind must be hunted in some special manner; and, as the antelopes are generally the wariest as well as the most active of game, the hunter must be thoroughly acquainted with his business before he can hope for success.

One of the antelopes which live in small parties is the koodoo, so well known for its magnificent spiral horns. To Europeans the koodoo is only interesting as being one of the most splendid of the antelope tribe, but to the Kaffir it is almost as valuable an animal as the cow. The flesh of the koodoo is well-flavored and tender, two qualities which are exceedingly rare among South African antelopes. The marrow taken from the leg bones is a great luxury with the Kaffirs, who are so fond of it that when they kill a koodoo they remove the leg bones, break them, and eat the marrow, not only without cooking, but while it is still warm. Revolting as such a practice may seem to us, it has been adopted even by English hunters, who have been sensible enough to accommodate themselves to circumstances.

Then, its hide, although comparatively thin, is singularly tough, and, when cut into narrow slips and properly manipulated, is used for a variety of purposes which a thicker hide could not fulfil. The toughness and strength of these thongs are really wonderful, and the rapidity with which they are made scarcely less so. I have seen an experienced skindresser cut a strip from a dried koodoo skin, and in less than half a minute produce a long, delicate thong, about as thick as ordinary whipcord, as pliant as silk, and beautifully rounded. I have often thought that the much vexed question of the best leather for boot-laces might be easily solved by the use of koodoo hide. Such thongs would be expensive in the outset, but their lasting powers would render them cheap in the long run.

The horns of the koodoo are greatly valued in this country, and command a high price, on account of their great beauty. The Kaffirs, however, value them even more than we do. They will allow the horns of the eland to lie about and perish, but those of the koodoo they carefully preserve for two special purposes,—namely, the forge and the smoking party. Although a Kaffir blacksmith will use the horns of the domestic ox, or of the eland, as tubes whereby the[128] wind is conveyed from the bellows to the fire, he very much prefers those of the koodoo, and, if he should be fortunate enough to obtain a pair, he will lavish much pains on making a handsome pair of bellows. He also uses the koodoo horn in the manufacture of the remarkable water-pipe in which he smokes dakka, or hemp. On page 167 may be seen a figure of a Kaffir engaged in smoking a pipe made from the koodoo horn.

Like many other antelopes, the koodoo is a wary animal, and no small amount of pains must be taken before the hunter can succeed in his object. The koodoo is one of the antelopes that require water, and is not like its relative, the eland, which never cares to drink, and which contrives, in some mysterious manner, to be the largest, the fattest, and the plumpest of all the antelope tribe, though it lives far from water, and its principal food is herbage so dry that it can be rubbed to powder between the hands.

Each of the antelopes has its separate wiles, and puts in practice a different method of escape from an enemy. The pretty little Duiker-bok, for example, jumps about here and there with an erratic series of movements, reminding the sportsman of the behavior of a flushed snipe. Suddenly it will stop, as if tired, and lie down in the grass; but when the hunter comes to the spot, the animal has vanished. All the previous movements were merely for the purpose of distracting the attention of the hunter, and as soon as the little antelope crouched down, it lowered its head and crawled away on its knees under cover of the herbage. It is owing to this habit that the Dutch colonists called it the Duiker, or Diver. This little antelope is found in long grass, or among stunted bushes, and the wary Kaffir is sure to have his weapons ready whenever he passes by a spot where he may expect to find the Duyker, or Impoon, as he calls it. The creature is wonderfully tenacious of life, and, even when mortally wounded, it will make its escape from a hunter who does not know its peculiarities.

Other antelopes that inhabit grass and bush land have very ingenious modes of concealing themselves. Even on the bare plain they will crouch down in such odd attitudes that all trace of their ordinary outline is gone, and they contrive to arrange themselves in such a manner that at a little distance they much resemble a heap of withered grass and dead sticks, the former being represented by their fur, and the latter by their horns and limbs. An untrained eye would never discover one of these animals, and novices in African hunting can seldom distinguish the antelope even when it is pointed out to them.

Whenever a practised hunter sees an antelope crouching on the ground, he may be sure that the animal is perfectly aware of his presence, and is only watching for an opportunity to escape. If he were to go directly toward it, or even to stop and look at it, the antelope would know that it is detected, and would dart off while still out of range. But an experienced hunter always pretends not to have seen the animal, and instead of approaching it in a direct line, walks round and round the spot where it is lying, always coming nearer to his object, but never taking any apparent notice of it. The animal is quite bewildered by this mode of action, and cannot make up its mind what to do. It is not sure that it has been detected; and therefore does not like to run the risk of jumping up and openly betraying itself, and so it only crouches closer to the ground until its enemy is within range. The pretty antelope called the Ourebi is often taken in this manner.

Some antelopes cannot be taken in this manner. They are very wary animals, and, when they perceive an enemy, they immediately gallop off, and will go wonderful distances in an almost straight line. One of these animals is the well-known eland, an antelope which, in spite of its enormous size and great weight, is wonderfully swift and active; and, although a large eland will be nearly six feet high at the shoulders, and as largely built as our oxen, it will dash over rough hilly places at a pace that no horse can for a time equal. But it cannot keep up this pace for a very long time, as it becomes extremely fat and heavy; and if it be continually hard pressed, and not allowed to slacken its pace or to halt, it becomes so exhausted that it can be easily overtaken. The usual plan in such cases is to get in front of the tired eland, make it turn round, and thus drive it into the camping spot, where it can be killed, so that the hunters save themselves the trouble of carrying the meat to camp.

Eland hunting is always a favorite sport both with natives and white men, partly because its flesh is singularly excellent, and partly because a persevering chase is almost always rewarded with success. To the native, the eland is of peculiar value, because it furnishes an amount of meat which will feed them plentifully for several days. Moreover, the flesh is always tender, a quality which does not generally belong to South African venison. The Zulu warriors, however, do not eat the flesh of the eland, being restrained by superstitious motives.

Usually, when an antelope is killed, its flesh must either be eaten at once, before the animal heat has left the body, or it must be kept for a day or two, in order to free it from its toughness. But the flesh of the eland can be eaten even within a few hours after the animal has been killed. The hunters make a rather curious preparation from the flesh of the eland. They take out separately[129] the muscles of the thighs, and cure them just as if they were tongues. These articles are called “thigh-tongues,” and are useful on a journey when provisions are likely to be scarce. Perhaps one of the greatest merits of the eland in a Kaffir’s eyes is the enormous quantity of fat which it will produce when in good condition. As has already been mentioned, fat is one of the necessaries of life to a Kaffir, as well as one of the greatest luxuries, and a bull eland in good condition furnishes a supply that will make a Kaffir happy for a month.

There is another South African antelope, which, like the eland, runs in a straight course when alarmed, but which, unlike the eland, is capable of great endurance. This is the splendid gemsbok, an antelope which is nearly as large as the eland, though not so massively built. This beautiful antelope is an inhabitant of the dry and parched plains of Southern Africa, and, like the eland, cares nothing for water, deriving all the moisture which it needs from certain succulent roots of a bulbous nature, which lie hidden in the soil, and which its instinct teaches it to unearth. This ability to sustain life without the aid of water renders its chase a very difficult matter, and the hunters, both native and European, are often baffled, not so much by the speed and endurance of the animal, as by the dry and thirsty plains through which it leads them, and in which they can find no water. The spoils of the gemsbok are therefore much valued, and its splendid horns will always command a high price, even in its own country, while in Europe they are sure of a sale.

The horns of this antelope are about three feet in length, and are very slightly curved. The mode in which they are placed on the head is rather curious. They are very nearly in a line with the forehead, so that when the animal is at rest their tips nearly touch the back. Horns thus set may be thought to be deprived of much of their capabilities, but the gemsbok has a rather curious mode of managing these weapons. When it desires to charge, or to receive the assaults of an enemy, it stoops its head nearly to the ground, the nose passing between the fore-feet. The horns are then directed toward the foe, their tips being some eighteen or twenty inches from the ground. As soon as the enemy comes within reach, the gemsbok turns its head strongly upward, and impales the antagonist on its horns, which are so sharp that they seem almost to have been pointed and polished by artificial means.

Dogs find the gemsbok to be one of their worst antagonists; for if they succeed in bringing it to bay, it wields its horns with such swift address that they cannot come within its reach without very great danger. Even when the animal has received a mortal wound, and been lying on the ground with only a few minutes of life in its body, it has been known to sweep its armed head so fiercely from side to side that it killed several of the dogs as they rushed in to seize the fallen enemy, wounded others severely, and kept a clear space within range of its horns. Except at certain seasons of the year, when the gemsbok becomes very fat, and is in consequence in bad condition for a long chase, the natives seldom try to pursue it, knowing that they are certain to have a very long run, and that the final capture of the animal is very uncertain.

As to those antelopes which gather themselves together in vast herds, the South African hunter acts on very different principles, and uses stratagem rather than speed or force. One of their most successful methods of destroying the game wholesale is by means of the remarkable trap called the Hopo. The hopo is, in fact, a very large pitfall, dug out with great labor, and capable of holding a vast number of animals. Trunks of trees are laid over it at each end, and a similar arrangement is made at the sides, so that a kind of overlapping edge is given to it, and a beast that has fallen into it cannot possibly escape. From this pit two fences diverge, in a V-like form, the pit being the apex. These fences are about a mile in length, and their extremities are a mile, or even more, apart.

Many hundreds of hunters then turn out, and ingeniously contrive to decoy or drive the herd of game into the treacherous space between the fences. They then form themselves into a cordon across the open end of the V, and advance slowly, so as to urge the animals onward. A miscellaneous company of elands, hartebeests, gnoos, zebras, and other animals, is thus driven nearer and nearer to destruction. Toward the angle of the V, the fence is narrowed into a kind of lane or passage, some fifty yards in length, and is made very strongly, so as to prevent the affrighted animals from breaking through. When a number of them have fairly entered the passage, the hunters dash forward, yelling at the full stretch of their powerful voices, brandishing their shields and assagais, and so terrifying the doomed animals that they dash blindly forward, and fall into the pit. It is useless for those in front to recoil when they see their danger, as they are pushed onward by their comrades, and in a few minutes the pit is full of dead and dying animals. Many of the herd escape when the pit is quite full, by passing over the bodies of their fallen companions, but enough are taken to feast the whole tribe for a considerable time. Those on the outskirts of the herd often break wildly away, and try to make their escape through the cordon of armed hunters. Many of them succeed in their endeavors, but others fall victims to the assagais which are hurled at them upon all sides.


Even such large game as the giraffe, the buffalo, and the rhinoceros have been taken in this ingenious and most effective trap. Dr. Livingstone mentions that the small sub-tribe called the Bakawas took from sixty to seventy head of cattle per week in the various hopos which they constructed.

The animated scene which takes place at one of these hunts is well described by Mr. H. H. Methuen, in his “Life in the Wilderness.” After mentioning the pitfall and the two diverging fences, between which a herd of quaggas had been enclosed, he proceeds as follows: “Noises thickened round me, and men rushed past, their skin cloaks streaming in the wind, till, from their black naked figures and wild gestures, it wanted no Martin to imagine a Pandemonium. I pressed hard upon the flying animals, and galloping down the lane, saw the pits choke-full; while several of the quaggas, noticing their danger, turned upon me, ears back, and teeth showing, compelling me to retreat with equal celerity from them. Some natives standing in the lane made the fugitives run the gauntlet with their assagais. As each quagga made a dash at them, they pressed their backs into the hedge, and held their hard ox-hide shields in his face, hurling their spears into his side as he passed onward. One managed to burst through the hedge and escape; the rest fell pierced with assagais, like so many porcupines. Men are often killed in these hunts, when buffaloes turn back in a similar way.

“It was some little time before Bari and I could find a gap in the hedge and get round to the pits, but at length we found one, and then a scene exhibited itself which baffles description. So full were the pits that many animals had run over the bodies of their comrades, and got free. Never can I forget that bloody, murderous spectacle; a moaning, wriggling mass of quaggas, huddled and jammed together in the most inextricable confusion; some were on their backs, with their heels up, and others lying across them; some had taken a dive and only displayed their tails; all lay interlocked like a bucketful of eels. The savages, frantic with excitement, yelled round them, thrusting their assagais with smiles of satisfaction into the upper ones, and leaving them to suffocate those beneath, evidently rejoicing in the agony of their victims. Moseleli, the chief, was there in person, and after the lapse of half an hour, the poles at the entrance of the pits being removed, the dead bodies, in all the contortions and stiffness of death, were drawn out by hooked stakes secured through the main sinew of the neck, a rude song, with extemporary words, being chanted the while.”

The narrator mentions that out of one pit, only twelve feet square and six deep, he saw twenty “quaggas” extracted.

Sometimes pitfalls are constructed for the reception of single animals, such as the elephant, the hippopotamus, and the rhinoceros. These are made chiefly in two modes. The pitfalls which are intended for catching the three last mentioned animals are tolerably large, but not very deep, because the size and weight of the prisoners prevent them from making their escape. Moreover, a stout stake, some five feet or more in length, and sharpened at the top, is placed in the middle of the pit, so that the animal falls upon it and is impaled. The pits are neatly covered with sticks, leaves, and earth, so ingeniously disposed that they look exactly like the surface of the ground, and are dangerous, not only to the beasts which they are intended to catch, but to men and horses. So many accidents have happened by means of these pits, that when a traveller goes from one district to another he sends notice of his coming, so that all the pitfalls that lie in his way may be opened.

Elephants are, of course, the most valuable game that can be taken in these traps, because their tusks can be sold at a high price, and their flesh supplies a vast quantity of meat. As the elephant is a terrible enemy to their cornfields and storehouses, the natives are in the habit of guarding the approaches by means of these pitfalls, and at first find their stratagem totally successful. But the elephants are so crafty that they soon learn caution from the fate of their comrades, and it is as difficult to catch an elephant in a pitfall as it is to catch an old rat in a trap. Having been accustomed to such succulent repasts, the elephants do not like to give up their feasts altogether, and proceed on their nocturnal expeditions much as usual. But some of the oldest and wariest of the herd go in front, and when they come near the cultivated ground, they beat the earth with their trunks, not venturing a step until they have ascertained that their footing is safe. As soon as they come to a pitfall, the hollow sound warns them of danger. They instantly stop, tear the covering of the pitfall to pieces, and, having thus unmasked it, proceed on their way.

The pitfall which is made for the giraffe is constructed on a different principle. Owing to the exceedingly long limbs of the animal, it is dug at least ten feet in depth. But, instead of being a mere pit, a wall or bank of earth is left in the middle, about seven feet in height, and shaped much like the letter A. As soon as the giraffe tumbles into the pit, its fore and hind legs fall on opposite sides of the wall, so that the animal is balanced on its belly, and wastes its strength in plunging about in hopes of finding a foothold.

Sometimes a number of Kaffirs turn out for the purpose of elephant hunting. By dint of the wary caution which they can always exercise when in pursuit of game, they find out the animal which possesses[131] the finest tusks, and mark all his peculiarities; they then watch the spot where he treads, and, by means of a lump of soft clay, they take an impression of his footmarks. The reason for doing so is simple enough, viz. that if they should have to chase him, they may not run the risk of confounding his footmarks with those of other elephants. The sole of every elephant’s foot is traversed by a number of indented lines, and in no two specimens are these lines alike. The clay model of the footprints serves them as a guide whereby they may assure themselves that they are on the right track whenever they come to the neighborhood of water, where the ground is soft, and where the footprints of many elephants are sure to be found. Their next endeavor is to creep near enough to the elephant to inflict a severe wound upon it, an object which is generally attained by a number of the dark hunters gliding among the trees, and simultaneously hurling their spears at the unsuspecting animal. The wounded elephant is nearly certain to charge directly at the spot from which he fancies that the assault has been made, and his shriek of mingled rage and alarm is sure to cause the rest of the herd to rush off in terror. The hunters then try by various stratagems to isolate the wounded animal from its comrades, and to prevent him from rejoining them, while at every opportunity fresh assagais are thrown, and the elephant is never permitted to rest.

As a wounded elephant always makes for the bush, it would be quite safe from white hunters, though not so from the lithe and naked Kaffirs, who glide through the underwood and between the trees faster than the elephant can push its way through them. Every now and then it will turn and charge madly at its foes, but it expends its strength in vain, as they escape by nimbly jumping behind trees, or, in critical cases, by climbing up them, knowing that an elephant never seems to comprehend that a foe can be anywhere but on the ground.

In this kind of chase they are much assisted by their dogs, which bark incessantly at the animal, and serve to distract its attention from the hunters. It may seem strange that so huge an animal as the elephant should be in the least impeded by such small creatures as dogs, which, even if he stood still and allowed them to bite his legs to their hearts’ content, could make no impression on the thick and tough skin which defends them. But the elephant has a strange terror of small animals, and especially dreads the dog, so that, when it is making up its mind to charge in one direction, the barking of a contemptible little cur will divert it from its purpose, and enable its intended victim either to secure himself behind a tree, or to become the assailant, and add another spear to the number that are already quivering in the animal’s vast body.

The slaughter of an elephant by this mode of hunting is always a long and a cruel process. Even when the hunters are furnished with the best fire-arms, a number of wounds are generally inflicted before it dies, the exceptional case, when it falls dead at the first shot, being very rare indeed. Now, however powerful may be the practised aim of a Kaffir, and sharp as may be his weapon, he cannot drive it through the inch-thick hide into a vital part, and the consequence is that the poor animal is literally worried to death by a multitude of wounds, singly insignificant, but collectively fatal. At last the huge victim falls under the loss of blood, and great are the rejoicings if it should happen to sink down in its ordinary kneeling posture, as the tusks can then be extracted with comparative ease, and the grove of spears planted in its body can be drawn out entire; whereas, when the elephant falls on one side, all the spears upon that side are shattered to pieces, and every one must be furnished with a new shaft.

The first proceeding is to cut off the tail, which is valued as a trophy, and the next is to carve upon the tusks the mark of the hunter to whom they belong, and who is always the man who inflicted the first wound. The next proceeding is to cut a large hole in one side, into which a number of Kaffirs enter, and busy themselves by taking out the most valuable parts of the animal. The inner membrane of the skin is saved for water-sacks, which are made in a very primitive manner, a large sheet of the membrane being gathered together, and a sharp stick thrust through the corners. The heart is then taken out, cut into convenient pieces, and each portion wrapped in a piece of the ear. If the party can encamp for the night on the spot, they prepare a royal feast, by baking one or two of the feet in the primitive but most effective oven which is in use, not only in Southern Africa, but in many other parts of the world.

A separate oven is made for each foot, and formed as follows:—A hole is dug in the ground, considerably larger than the foot which is to be cooked, and a fire is built in it. As soon as it burns up, a large heap of dry wood is piled upon it, and suffered to burn down. When the heap is reduced to a mass of glowing ashes, the Kaffirs scrape out the embers by means of a long pole, each man taking his turn to run to the hole, scrape away until he can endure the heat no longer, and then run away again, leaving the pole for his successor. The hole being freed from embers, the foot is rolled into it, and covered with green leaves and twigs. The hot earth and embers are then piled over the hole, and another great bonfire lighted. As soon as the wood has entirely burned itself out, the operation of baking is considered as complete, and the foot is lifted out by several men furnished[132] with long sharpened poles. By means of this remarkable oven the meat is cooked more thoroughly than could be achieved in any oven of more elaborate construction, the whole of the tendons, the fat, the immature bone, and similar substances being converted into a gelatinous mass, which the African hunter seems to prefer to all other dishes, excepting, perhaps, the marrow taken from the leg bones of the giraffe or eland.

Sometimes the trunk is cut into thick slices, and baked at the same time with the feet. Although this part of the elephant may not be remarkable for the excellence of its flavor, it has, at all events, the capability of being made tender by cooking, which is by no means the case with the meat that is usually obtained from the animals which inhabit Southern Africa. Even the skull itself is broken up for the sake of the oily fat which fills the honeycomb-like cells which intervene between the plates of the skull. The rest of the meat is converted into “biltongue,” by cutting it into strips and drying it in the sun, as has already been described. As a general rule, the Kaffirs do not like to leave an animal until they have dried or consumed the whole of the meat. Under the ready spears and powerful jaws of the natives, even an elephant is soon reduced to a skeleton, as may be imagined from the fact that five Kaffirs can eat a buffalo in a day and a half.

The skull and tusks can generally be left on the spot for some time, as the hunters respect each other’s marks, and will not, as a rule, take the tusks from an elephant that has been killed and marked by another. The object in allowing the head to remain untouched is, that putrefaction may take place, and render the task of extracting the tusks easier than is the case when they are taken out at once. It must be remembered that the tusks of an elephant are imbedded in the skull for a considerable portion of their length, and that the only mode of extracting them is by chopping away their thick, bony sockets, which is a work of much time and labor. However, in that hot climate putrefaction takes place very readily, and by the time that the hunters have finished the elephant the tusks can be removed. Sometimes the flesh becomes more than “high,” but the Kaffirs, and indeed all African savages, seem rather to prefer certain meats when in the incipient stage of putrefaction.

Careless of the future as are the natives of Southern Africa, they are never wasteful of food, and, unlike the aborigines of North America, they seldom, if ever, allow the body of a slain animal to become the prey of birds and beasts. They will eat in two days the food that ought to serve them for ten, and will nearly starve themselves to death during the remaining eight days of famine, but they will never throw away anything that can by any possibility be eaten. Even the very blood is not wasted. If a large animal, such as a rhinoceros, be killed, the black hunters separate the ribs from the spine, as the dead animal lies on its side, and by dint of axe blades, assagai heads, and strong arms, soon cut a large hole in the side. Into this hole the hunters straightway lower themselves, and remove the intestines of the animal, passing them to their comrades outside, who invert them, tie up the end, and return them. By this time a great quantity of blood has collected, often reaching above the ankles of the hunters. This blood they ladle with their joined hands into the intestines, and so contrive to make black puddings on a gigantic scale.

The flesh of the rhinoceros is not very tempting. That of an old animal is so very tough and dry that scarcely any one except a native can eat it; and even that of the young animal is only partly eatable by a white man. When a European hunter kills a young rhinoceros, he takes a comparatively small portion of it,—namely, the hump, and a layer of fat and flesh which lies between the skin and the ribs. The remainder he abandons to his native assistants, who do not seem to care very much whether meat be tough or tender, so long as it is meat. The layer of fat and lean on the ribs is only some two inches in thickness, so that the attendants have the lion’s share, as far as quantity is concerned. Quality they leave to the more fastidious taste of the white man.

The intestines of animals are greatly valued by the native hunters, who laugh at white men for throwing them away. They state that, even as food, the intestines are the best parts of the animal, and those Europeans who have had the moral courage to follow the example of the natives have always corroborated their assertion. The reader may perhaps remember that the backwoodsmen of America never think of rejecting these dainty morsels, but have an odd method of drawing them slowly through the fire, and thus eating them as fast as they are cooked. Moreover, the intestines, as well as the paunch, are always useful as water-vessels. This latter article, when it is taken from a small animal, is always reserved for cooking purposes, being filled with scraps of meat, fat, blood, and other ingredients, and then cooked. Scotch travellers have compared this dish to the “haggis” of their native land.

The illustration opposite represents the wild and animated scene which accompanies the death of an elephant. Some two or three hours are supposed to have elapsed since the elephant was killed, and the chief has just arrived at the spot. He is shown seated in the foreground, his shield and assagais stacked behind him, while his page is holding a cup of beer, and two of his chief men are offering him the tusks of the elephant. In the middle distance are seen the Kaffirs preparing the oven for the reception of the elephant’s foot. Several men are seen engaged in raking out the embers from the hole, shielding themselves from the heat by leafy branches of trees, while one of the rakers has just left his post, being scorched to the utmost limit of endurance, and is in the act of handing over his pole to a comrade who is about to take his place at the fire.


(See page 132.)


Two more Kaffirs are shown in the act of rolling the huge foot to the oven, and strips of the elephant’s flesh are seen suspended from the boughs in order to be converted into “biltongue.” It is a rather remarkable fact that this simple process of cutting the meat into strips and drying it in the air has the effect of rendering several unsavory meats quite palatable, taking away the powerful odors which deter even a Kaffir, and much more a white man, from eating them in a fresh state.

In the extreme distance is seen the nearly demolished body of the elephant, at which a couple of Kaffirs are still at work. It may here be mentioned that after an elephant is killed, the Kaffirs take very great pains about making the first incision into the body. The carcass of the slain animal generally remains on the ground for an hour or two until the orders of the chief can be received; and even in that brief space of time the hot African sun produces a partial decomposition, and causes the body of the animal to swell by reason of the quantity of gas which is generated. The Kaffir who takes upon himself the onerous task of making the first incision chooses his sharpest and weightiest assagai, marks the direction of the wind, selects the best spot for the operation, and looks carefully round to see that the coast is clear. Having made all his preparations, he hurls his weapon deeply into the body of the elephant, and simultaneously leaps aside to avoid the result of the stroke, the enclosed gas escaping with a loud report, and pouring out in volumes of such singularly offensive odor that even the nostrils of a Kaffir are not proof against it.

I have more than once witnessed a somewhat similar scene when engaged in the pursuit of comparative anatomy, the worst example being that of a lion which had been dead some three or four weeks, and which was, in consequence, swollen out of all shape. We fastened tightly all the windows which looked upon the yard in which the body of the animal was lying, and held the door ready to be closed at a moment’s notice. The adventurous operator armed himself with a knife and a lighted pipe, leaned well to the opposite side of the animal, delivered his stab, and darted back to the door, which was instantly closed. The result of the operation was very much like that which has been mentioned when performed on the elephant, though on a smaller scale, and in a minute or so the lion was reduced to its ordinary size.

Sometimes a great number of hunters unite for the purpose of assailing one of the vast herds of animals which have already been mentioned. In this instance, they do not resort to the pitfall, but attack the animals with their spears. In order to do so effectually, they divide themselves into two parties, one of which, consisting chiefly of the younger men, and led by one or two of the old and experienced hunters, sets off toward the herd, while the others, armed with a large supply of assagais and kerries, proceed to one of the narrow and steep-sided ravines which are so common in Southern Africa. (See engraving No. 2, p. 121.)

The former party proceed very cautiously, availing themselves of every cover, and being very careful to manœuvre so as to keep on the leeward side of the herd, until they have fairly placed the animals between themselves and the ravine. Meanwhile, sentries are detached at intervals, whose duty it is to form a kind of lane toward the ravine, and to prevent the herd from taking a wrong course. When all the arrangements are completed, the hunters boldly show themselves in the rear of the animals, who immediately move forward in a body—not very fast at first, because they are not quite sure whether they are going to be attacked. As they move along, the sentinels show themselves at either side, so as to direct them toward the ravine; and when the van of the herd has entered, the remainder are sure to follow.

Then comes a most animated and stirring scene. Knowing that when the leaders of the herd have entered the ravine, the rest are sure to follow, the driving party rushes forward with loud yells, beating their shields, and terrifying the animals to such a degree that they dash madly forward in a mixed concourse of antelopes, quaggas, giraffes, and often a stray ostrich or two. Thick and fast the assagais rain upon the affrighted animals as they try to rush out of the ravine, but when they reach the end they find their exit barred by a strong party of hunters, who drive them back with shouts and spears. Some of them charge boldly at the hunters, and make their escape, while others rush back again through the kloof, hoping to escape by the same way as they had entered. This entrance is, however, guarded by the driving party, and so the wretched animals are sent backward and forward along this deadly path until the weapons of their assailants are exhausted, and the survivors are allowed to escape.

These “kloofs” form as characteristic features of Southern Africa as do the table mountains. They have been well defined[136] as the re-entering elbows or fissures in a range of hills; and it is a remarkable fact that the kloof is mostly clothed with thick bush, whatever may be the character of the surrounding country. In Colonel E. Napier’s “Excursions in Southern Africa,” there is so admirable a description of the kloof and the bush that it must be given in the language of the writer, who has drawn a most perfect word-picture of South African scenery:—

“The character of the South African ‘bush’ has features quite peculiar in itself, and sometimes unites—while strongly contrasting—the grand and sublime with the grotesque and ridiculous. When seen afar from a commanding elevation—the undulating sea of verdure extending for miles and miles, with a bright sun shining on a green, compact, unbroken surface—it conveys to the mind of a spectator naught save images of repose, peace, and tranquillity. He forgets that, like the hectic bloom of a fatal malady, these smiling seas of verdure often in their entangled depths conceal treacherous, death-dealing reptiles, ferocious beasts of prey, and the still more dangerous, though no less crafty, and more cruel Kaffir.

“On a nearer approach, dark glens and gloomy kloofs are found to fence the mountain sides. These often merge downward into deep ravines, forming at their base sometimes the bed of a clear, gurgling brook, or that of a turbid, raging torrent, generally shadowed and overhung by abundant vegetation, in all the luxuriance of tropical growth and profusion. Noble forest trees, entwined with creepers, encircled by parasitical plants and with long gray mantles of lichen, loosely and beardlike floating from their spreading limbs, throw the ‘brown horrors’ of a shadowy gloom o’er the dark, secluded, Druidical-looking dells. But jabbering apes, or large, satyr-like baboons, performing grotesque antics and uttering unearthly yells, grate strangely on the ear, and sadly mar the solemnity of the scene; whilst lofty, leafless, and fantastic euphorbia, like huge candelabra, shoot up in bare profusion from the gray, rocky cliffs, pointing as it were in mockery their skeleton arms at the dark and luxuriant foliage around. Other plants of the cactus and milky tribes—of thorny, rugged, or smooth and fleshy kinds—stretch forth in every way their bizarre, misshapen forms; waving them to the breeze, from yon high, beetling crags, so thickly clothed to their very base with graceful nojebooms, and drooping, palm-like aloes; whose tall, slender, and naked stems spring up from amidst the dense verdure of gay and flowering mimosas.

“Emerging from such darksome glens to the more sunny side of the mountain’s brow, there we still find an impenetrable bush, but differing in character from what we have just described—a sort of high, thorny underwood, composed chiefly of the mimosa and portulacacia tribe; taller, thicker, more impenetrable, and of more rigid texture than even the tiger’s accustomed lair in the far depths of an Indian jungle; but, withal, so mixed and mingled with luxuriant, turgid, succulent plants and parasites, as—even during the dryest weather—to be totally impervious to the destroying influence of fire.

“The bush is, therefore, from its impassable character, the Kaffir’s never-failing place of refuge, both in peace and war. In his naked hardihood, he either, snake-like, twines through and creeps beneath its densest masses, or, shielded with the kaross, securely defies their most thorny and abrading opposition. Under cover of the bush, in war, he, panther-like, steals upon his foe; in peace, upon the farmer’s flock. Secure, in both instances, from pursuit, he can in the bush set European power, European skill, and European discipline at naught; and hitherto, vain has been every effort to destroy by fire this, his impregnable—for it is impregnable to all save himself—stronghold.”

After a successful hunt, such as has just been described, there are great rejoicings, the chief of the tribe having all the slaughtered game laid before him, and giving orders for a grand hunting dance. The chief, who is generally too fat to care about accompanying the hunters, takes his seat in some open space, mostly the central enclosure of a kraal, and there, in company with a huge bowl of beer and a few distinguished guests, awaits the arrival of the game. The animals have hardly fallen before they are carried in triumph to the chief, and laid before him. As each animal is placed on the ground, a little Kaffir boy comes and lays himself over his body, remaining in this position until the dance is over. This curious custom is adopted from an idea that it prevents sorcerers from throwing their spells upon the game. The boys who are employed for this purpose become greatly disfigured by the blood of the slain animals, but they seem to think that the gory stains are ornamental rather than the reverse.

At intervals, the hunting dance takes place, the hunters arranging themselves in regular lines, advancing and retreating with the precision of trained soldiers, shouting, leaping, beating their shields, brandishing their weapons, and working themselves up to a wonderful pitch of excitement. The leader of the dance, who faces them, is, if possible, even more excited than the men, and leaps, stamps, and shouts with an energy that seems to be almost maniacal. Meanwhile, the chief sits still, and drinks his beer, and signifies occasionally his approval of the dancers.


Besides those animals which the Kaffir kills for food, there are others which he only attacks for the sake of their trophies, such as the skin, claws, and teeth. The mode adopted in assailing the fierce and active beasts, such as the lion, is very remarkable. Each man furnishes himself, in addition to his usual weapons, with an assagai, to the but-end of which is attached a large bunch of ostrich feathers, looking very much like the feather brushes with which ladies dust delicate furniture. They then proceed to the spot where the lion is to be found, and spread themselves so as to make a circle round him. The lion is at first rather disquieted at this proceeding, and, according to his usual custom, tries to slip off unseen. When, however, he finds that he cannot do so, and that the circle of enemies is closing on him, he becomes angry, turns to bay, and with menacing growls announces his intention of punishing the intruders on his domain. One of them then comes forward, and incites the lion to charge him, and as soon as the animal’s attention is occupied by one object, the hunters behind him advance, and hurl a shower of assagais at him. With a terrible roar the lion springs at the bold challenger, who sticks his plumed assagai into the ground, leaping at the same time to one side. In his rage and pain, the lion does not at the moment comprehend the deception, and strikes with his mighty paw at the bunch of ostrich plumes, which he takes for the feather-decked head of his assailant. Finding himself baffled, he turns round, and leaps on the nearest hunter, who repeats the same process; and as at every turn the furious animal receives fresh wounds, he succumbs at last to his foes.

It is seldom that in such an affray the hunters come off scathless. The least hesitation in planting the plumed spear and leaping aside entails the certainty of a severe wound, and the probability of death. But, as the Kaffirs seldom engage in such a hunt without the orders of their chief, and are perfectly aware that failure to execute his commands is a capital offence, it is better for them to run the risk of being swiftly killed by the lion’s paw than cruelly beaten to death by the king’s executioners.

That sanguinary monarch, Dingan, used occasionally to send a detachment with orders to catch a lion alive, and bring it to him. They executed this extraordinary order much in the same manner as has been related. But they were almost totally unarmed, having no weapons but their shields and kerries, and, as soon as the lion was induced to charge, the bold warriors threw themselves upon him in such numbers that they fairly overwhelmed him, and brought him into the presence of Dingan, bound and gagged, though still furious with rage, and without a wound. Of course, several soldiers lost their lives in the assault, but neither their king nor their comrades seemed to think that anything out of the ordinary course of things had been done. On one occasion, Dingan condescended to play a practical joke upon his soldiers.

A traveller had gone to see him, and had turned loose his horse, which was quietly grazing at a distance. At that time horses had not been introduced among the Kaffirs, and many of the natives had never even seen such an animal as a horse. It so happened that among the soldiers that surrounded Dingan were some who had come from a distant part of the country, and who were totally unacquainted with horses. Dingan called them to him, and pointing to the distant horse, told them to bring him that lion alive. They instantly started off, and, as usual, one stood in advance to tempt the animal to charge, while the others closed in upon the supposed lion, in order to seize it when it had made its leap. They soon discovered their mistake, and came back looking very foolish, to the great delight of their chief.

The buffalo is, however, a more terrible foe than the lion itself, as it will mostly take the initiative, and attack before its presence is suspected. Its habit of living in the densest and darkest thicket renders it a peculiarly dangerous animal, as it will dash from its concealment upon any unfortunate man who happens to pass near its lair; and as its great weight and enormously solid horns enable it to rush through the bush much faster than even a Kaffir can glide among the matted growths, there is but small chance of escape. Weapons are but of little use when a buffalo is in question, as its armed front is scarcely pervious to a rifle ball, and perfectly impregnable against such weapons as the Kaffir’s spear, and the suddenness of the attack gives but little time for escape.

As the Kaffirs do not particularly care for its flesh, though of course they will eat it when they can get nothing better, they will hunt the animal for the sake of its hide, from which they make the strongest possible leather. The hide is so tough that, except at close quarters, a bullet which has not been hardened by the admixture of some other metal will not penetrate it. Sometimes the Kaffir engages very unwillingly in war with this dangerous beast, being attacked unawares when passing near its haunts. Under these circumstances the man makes for the nearest tree, and if he can find time to ascend it he is safe from the ferocious brute, who would only be too glad to toss him in the air first, and then to pound his body to a jelly by trampling on him.




As by the chase the Kaffirs obtain the greater part of their animal food, so by agriculture they procure the chief part of their vegetable nourishment. The task of providing food is divided between the two sexes, the women not being permitted to take part in the hunt, nor to meddle with the cows, while the men will not contaminate their warrior hands with the touch of an agricultural implement. They have no objection to use edge-tools, such as the axe, and will cut down the trees and brushwood which may be in the way of cultivation; but they will not carry a single stick off the ground, nor help the women to dig or clear the soil.

When a new kraal is built, the inhabitants look out for a convenient spot in the immediate neighborhood, where they may cultivate the various plants that form the staple of South African produce. As a general rule, ground is of two kinds, namely, bush and open ground, the former being the more fertile, and the latter requiring less trouble in clearing. The experienced agriculturist invariably prefers the former, although it costs him a little more labor at first, and although the latter is rather more inviting at first sight. This favorable impression soon vanishes upon a closer inspection, for, as a general rule, where it is not sandy, it is baked so hard by the sun that a plough would have no chance against it, and even the heavy picks with which the women work cannot make an impression without much labor. Moreover, it requires much more water than is supplied from natural sources, and, even when well moistened, is not very remarkable for its fertility. Bush land is of a far better quality, and is prepared for agriculture as follows:—

The men set to work with their little axes, and chop down all the underwood and small trees, leaving the women to drag the fallen branches out of the space intended for the field or garden. Large trees they cannot fell with their imperfect instruments, and so they are obliged to content themselves with cutting off as many branches as possible, and then bringing the tree down by means of fire. The small trees and branches that are felled are generally arranged round the garden, so as to form a defence against the numerous enemies which assail the crops. The task of building this fence belongs to the men, and when they have completed it their part of the work is done, and they leave the rest to the women.

Furnished with the heavy and clumsy hoe, the woman breaks up the ground by sheer manual labor, and manages, in her curious fashion, to combine digging and sowing in one operation. Besides her pick, laid over her shoulder, and possibly a baby slung on her back, she carries to the field a large basket of seed balanced on her head. When she arrives at the scene of her labors, she begins by scattering the seed broadcast over the ground, and then pecks up the earth with her hoe to a depth of some three or four inches. The larger roots and grass tufts are then picked out by hand and removed, but the smaller are not considered worthy of special attention.[139] This constitutes the operation of sowing, and in a wonderfully short time a mixed crop of corn and weeds shoots up. When both are about a month old, the ground is again hoed, and the weeds are then pulled up and destroyed. Owing to the very imperfect mode of cultivation, the soil produces uncertain results, the corn coming up thickly and rankly in some spots, while in others not a blade of corn has made its appearance. When the Kaffir chooses the open ground for his garden, he does not always trouble himself to build a fence, but contents himself with marking out and sowing a patch of ground, trusting to good fortune that it may not be devastated by the numerous foes with which a Kaffir’s garden is sure to be infested.

The Kaffir seems to have very little idea of artificial irrigation, and none at all of renovating the ground by manure. Irrigation he leaves to the natural showers, and, beyond paying a professional “rain-maker” to charm the clouds for him, he takes little, if any, trouble about this important branch of agriculture. As to manuring soil, he is totally ignorant of such a proceeding, although the herds of cattle which are kept in every kraal would enable him to render his cultivated land marvellously fertile. The fact is, land is so plentiful that when one patch of it is exhausted he leaves it, and goes to another; and for this reason, abandoned gardens are very common, their position being marked out by remnants of the fence which encircled them, and by the surviving maize or pumpkin plants which have contrived to maintain an unassisted existence.

Four or five gardens are often to be seen round a kraal, each situated so as to suit some particular plant. Various kinds of crops are cultivated by the Kaffirs, the principal being maize, millet, pumpkins, and a kind of spurious sugar-cane in great use throughout Southern Africa, and popularly known by the name of “sweet reed.” The two former constitute, however, the necessaries of life, the latter belonging rather to the class of luxuries. The maize, or, as it is popularly called when the pods are severed from the stem, “mealies,” is the very staff of life to a Kaffir, as it is from the mealies that is made the thick porridge on which the Kaffir chiefly lives. If an European hire a Kaffir, whether as guide, servant, or hunter, he is obliged to supply him with a stipulated quantity of food, of which the maize forms the chief ingredient. Indeed, so long as the native of Southern Africa can get plenty of porridge and sour milk, he is perfectly satisfied with his lot. When ripe, the ears of maize are removed from the stem, the leafy envelope is stripped off, and they are hung in pairs over sticks until they are dry enough to be taken to the storehouse.

A watch-tower is generally constructed in these gardens, especially if they are of considerable size. The tower is useful for two reasons: it enables the watcher to see to a considerable distance, and acts as a protection against the wild boars and other enemies which are apt to devastate the gardens, especially if they are not guarded by a fence, or if the fence should be damaged. If the spot be unfenced, a guard is kept on it day and night, but a properly defended garden needs no night watchers except in one or two weeks of the year. The watch-tower is very simply made. Four stout poles are fixed firmly in the ground, and a number of smaller poles are lashed to their tops, so as to make a flat platform. A small hut is built on part of the platform as a protection against the weather, so that the inmate can watch the field while ensconced in the hut, and, if any furred or feathered robbers come within its precincts, can run out on the platform and frighten them away by shouts and waving of arms. The space between the platform and ground is wattled on three sides, leaving the fourth open. The object of this wattling is twofold. In the first place, the structure is rendered more secure; and in the second, the inmate of the tower can make a fire and cook food without being inconvenienced by the wind.

The task of the fields is committed to the women and young girls, the men thinking such duties beneath them. In order to keep off the birds from the newly sprouted corn blades, or from the just ripening grain, a very ingenious device is employed. A great number of tall, slender posts are stuck at intervals all over the piece of land, and strings made of bark are led from pole to pole, all the ends being brought to the top of the watch-tower, where they are firmly tied. As soon as a flock of birds alight on the field, the girl in charge of the tower pulls the strings violently, which sets them all vibrating up and down, and so the birds are frightened, and fly away to another spot. A system almost identical with this is employed both in the Chinese and Japanese empires, and the complicated arrangement of poles and strings, and the central watch-tower, is a favorite subject for illustration in the rude but graphic prints which both nations produce with such fertility.

The enemies of the cornfield are innumerable. There are, in the first place, hosts of winged foes, little birds and insects, which cannot be prohibited from entering, and can only be driven away when they have entered. Then there are certain members of the monkey tribes, notably the baboons, or chacmas, which care very little more for a fence than do the birds, and which, if they find climbing the fence too troublesome, can generally insinuate themselves through its interstices. This cunning[140] and active animal is at times too clever even for the Kaffir, and will succeed in stealing unobserved into his garden, and carrying off the choicest of the crops. Whatever a man will eat a chacma will eat, and the creature knows as well as the man when the crops are in the best order. Whether the garden contain maize, millet, pumpkins, sweet reed, or fruits, the chacma is sure to select the best; and even when the animals are detected, and chased out of the garden, it is very annoying to the proprietor to see them go off with a quantity of spoil, besides the amount which they have eaten.

The ordinary food of the chacma is a plant called Babiana, from the use which the baboons make of it. It is a subterranean root, which has the property of being always full of watery juice in the dryest weather, so that it is of incalculable value to travellers who have not a large supply of water with them, or who find that the regular fountains are dried up. Many Kaffirs keep tame chacmas which they have captured when very young, and which have scarcely seen any of their kind. These animals are very useful to the Kaffirs, for, if they come upon a plant or a fruit which they do not know, they offer it to the baboon; and if he eats it, they know that it is suitable for human consumption.

On their journeys the same animal is very useful in discovering water, or, at all events, the babiana roots, which supply a modicum of moisture to the system, and serve to support life until water is reached. Under these circumstances, the baboon takes the lead of the party, being attached to a long rope, and allowed to run about as it likes. When it comes to a root of babiana, it is held back until the precious vegetable can be taken entire out of the ground, but, in order to stimulate the animal to further exertions, it is allowed to eat a root now and then. The search for water is conducted in a similar manner. The wretched baboon is intentionally kept without drink until it is half mad with thirst, and is then led by a cord as before mentioned. It proceeds with great caution, standing occasionally on its hind legs to sniff the breeze, and looking at and smelling every tuft of grass. By what signs the animal is guided no one can even conjecture; but if water is in the neighborhood the baboon is sure to find it. So, although this animal is an inveterate foe of the field and garden, it is not without its uses to man when its energies are rightly directed.

If the gardens or fields should happen to be near the river side, there is no worse foe for them than the hippopotamus, which is only too glad to exchange its ordinary food for the rich banquet which it finds in cultivated grounds. If a single hippopotamus should once succeed in getting into a garden, a terrible destruction to the crop takes place. In the first place, the animal can consume an almost illimitable amount of green food: and when it gets among such dainties as cornfields and pumpkin patches, it indulges its appetite inordinately. Moreover, it damages more than it eats, as its broad feet and short thick legs trample their way through the crops. The track of any large animal would be injurious to a standing crop, but that of the hippopotamus is doubly so, because the legs of either side are so wide apart that the animal makes a double track, one being made with the feet of the right side, and the other with those of the left.

Against these heavy and voracious foes, a fence would be of little avail, as the hippopotamus could force its way through the barrier without injury, thanks to its thick hide. The owner of the field therefore encloses it within a tolerably deep ditch, and furthermore defends the ditch by pointed stakes: so that, if a hippopotamus did happen to fall into the trench, it would never come out again alive. A similar defence is sometimes made against the inroads of the elephants. Those animals do not often take it into their heads to attack a garden in the vicinity of human habitations; but when they do so, it is hardly possible to stop them, except by such an obstacle as a ditch. Even the ordinary protection of a fence and the vicinity of human habitations is worthless, when a number of elephants choose to make an inroad upon some field; and, unless the whole population turns out of the kraal and uses all means at their command, the animals will carry out their plans. The elephant always chooses the night for his marauding expeditions, so that the defenders of the crops have double disadvantages to contend against. One weapon which they use against the elephant is a very singular one. They have an idea that the animal is terrified at the shrill cry of an infant, and as soon as elephants approach a kraal, all the children are whipped, in hopes that the elephants may be dismayed at the universal clamor, and leave the spot.

Antelopes of various kinds are exceedingly fond of the young corn blades, and, if the field be without a fence, are sure to come in numbers, and nibble every green shoot down to the very ground. Near the bush the buffalo is scarcely less injurious, and more dangerous to meddle with; and even the porcupine is capable of working much damage. The wild swine, however, are perhaps the worst, because the most constant invaders, of the garden. Even a fence is useless against them, unless it be perfect throughout its length, for the pigs can force themselves through a wonderfully small aperture, owing to their wedge-shaped head, while their thick and tough skins enable them to push their way through thorns and spikes without suffering any damage.


The “pigs,” as the wild swine are popularly called, always come from the bush; and when several kraals are built near a bush, the chiefs of each kraal agree to make a fence from one to the other, so as to shut out the pigs from all the cultivated land. This fence is a very useful edifice, but, at the same time, has a very ludicrous aspect to an European. The reader has already been told that the Kaffir cannot draw a straight line, much less build a straight fence; and the consequence is, that the builders continually find that the fence is assuming the form of a segment of a circle in one direction, and then try to correct the error by making a segment of a circle in the opposite direction, thus making the fence very much larger than is necessary, and giving themselves a vast amount of needless trouble.

As to the winged enemies of the garden, many modes of killing them or driving them away are employed. One method for frightening birds has already been described, and is tolerably useful when the corn is young and green; but when it is ripe, the birds are much too busy to be deterred by such flimsy devices, and continue to eat the corn in spite of the shaking strings. Under such circumstances, war is declared against the birds, and a number of Kaffirs surround the enclosure, each being furnished with a number of knob-kerries. A stone is then flung into the corn for the purpose of startling the birds, and as they rise in a dense flock, a shower of kerries is rained upon them from every side. As every missile is sure to go into the flock, and as each Kaffir contrives to hurl four or five before the birds can get out of range, it may be imagined that the slaughter is very great. Tchaka, who was not above directing the minutiæ of domestic life, as well as of leading armies, subsidizing nations, and legislating for an empire, ordered that the birds should be continually attacked throughout his dominions; and, though he did not succeed in killing them all, yet he thinned their numbers so greatly, that during the latter years of his life the graminivorous birds had become scarce instead of invading the fields in vast flocks.

Locusts, the worst of the husbandman’s enemies, could not be extirpated, and, indeed, the task of even thinning their numbers appeared impracticable. The only plan that seems to have the least success is that of burning a large heap of grass, sticks, and leaves well to windward of the fields, as soon as the locusts are seen in the distance. These insects always fly with the wind, and when they find a tract of country covered with smoke, they would naturally pass on until they found a spot which was not defiled with smoke, and on which they might settle. It is said that locusts were not known in the Zulu territories until 1829, and that they were sent by the supernatural power of Sotshangana, a chief in the Delagoa district, whom Tchaka attacked, and by whom the Zulu warriors were defeated, as has already been mentioned on page 124. The whole story was told to Mr. Shooter, who narrates it in the following words:—

“When they had reached Sotshangana’s country, the Zulus were in great want of food, and a detachment of them coming to a deserted kraal, began, as usual, to search for it. In so doing, they discovered some large baskets, used for storing corn, and their hungry stomachs rejoiced at the prospect of a meal. But when a famished warrior impatiently removed the cover from one of them, out rushed a multitude of insects, and the anticipated feast flew about their ears. Astonishment seized the host, for they never beheld such an apparition before; every man asked his neighbor, but none could ‘tell its quality or name.’ One of their number at last threw some light on the mystery. He had seen the insects in Makazana’s country, and perhaps he told his wandering companions that they had been collected for food. But they soon learned this from the people of the kraal, who had only retired to escape the enemy, and whose voices were heard from a neighboring rock. In no case would the fugitives have been likely to spare their lungs, since they could rail and boast and threaten with impunity; but when they saw that their food was in danger, they lifted up their voices with desperate energy, and uttered the terrible threat that if the invaders ate their locusts, others should follow them home, and carry famine in their train. The Zulus were too hungry to heed the woe, or to be very discriminating in the choice of victuals, and the locusts were devoured. But when the army returned home, the scourge appeared, and the threatening was fulfilled.”

How locusts, the destroyers of food, are converted into food, and become a benefit instead of a curse to mankind, will be seen in the next chapter.

As to the fruits of this country, they are tolerably numerous, the most valued being the banana, which is sometimes called the royal fruit; a Kaffir monarch having laid claim to all bananas, and forced his subjects to allow him to take his choice before they touched the fruit themselves. In some favored districts the banana grows to a great size, a complete bunch being a heavy load for a man.

Next in importance to food for man is forage for cattle, and this is generally found in great abundance, so that the grazing of a herd costs their owner nothing but the trouble of driving his cattle to and from the grass land. In this, as in other hot countries, the grass grows with a rapidity and[142] luxuriance that tends to make it too rank for cattle to eat. When it first springs up, it is green, sweet, and tender; but when it has reached a tolerable length it becomes so harsh that the cattle can hardly eat it. The Kaffir, therefore, adopts a plan by which he obtains as much fresh grass as he likes throughout the season.

When a patch of grass has been fed upon as long as it can furnish nourishment to the cattle, the Kaffir marks out another feeding-place. At night, when the cattle are safely penned within the kraal, the Kaffir goes out with a firebrand, and, when he has gone well to windward of the spot which he means to clear, he sets fire to the dry grass. At first, the flame creeps but slowly on, but it gradually increases both in speed and extent, and sweeps over the plain in obedience to the wind. On level ground, the fire marches in a tolerably straight line, and is of nearly uniform height, except when it happens to seize upon a clump of bushes, when it sends bright spires of flame far into the sky. But when it reaches the bush-clad hills, the spectacle becomes imposing. On rushes the mass of flame, climbing the hill with fearful strides, roaring like myriads of flags ruffled in the breeze, and devouring in its progress every particle of vegetation. Not an inhabitant of the bush or plain can withstand its progress, and the fire confers this benefit on the natives, that it destroys the snakes and the slow-moving reptiles, while the swifter antelopes are able to escape.

When the fire has done its work, the tract over which it has passed presents a most dismal spectacle, the whole soil being bare and black, and the only sign of former vegetation being an occasional stump of a tree which the flames had not entirely consumed. But, in a very short time, the wonderfully vigorous life of the herbage begins to assert itself, especially if a shower of rain should happen to fall. Delicate green blades show their slender points through the blackened covering, and in a short time the whole tract is covered with a mantle of uniform tender green. Nothing can be more beautiful than the fresh green of the young blades, as they are boldly contrasted with the deep black hue of the ground. The nearest approach to it is the singularly beautiful tint of our hedgerows in early spring—a tint as fleeting as it is lovely. The charred ashes of the burned grass form an admirable top-dressing to the new grass, which springs up with marvellous rapidity, and in a very short time affords pasture to the cattle. The Kaffir is, of course, careful not to burn too much at once; but by selecting different spots, and burning them in regular succession, he is able to give his beloved cows fresh pasturage throughout the year.




We have now seen how the Kaffirs obtain the staple of their animal food by the cattle-pen and hunting-field, and how they procure vegetable food by cultivating the soil. We will next proceed to the various kinds of food used by the Kaffirs, and to the method by which they cook it. Man, according to a familiar saying, has been defined as par excellence the cooking animal, and we shall always find that the various modes used in preparing food are equally characteristic and interesting.

The staff of life to a Kaffir is grain, whether maize or millet, reduced to a pulp by careful grinding, and bearing some resemblance to the oatmeal porridge of Scotland. When a woman has to cook a dinner for her husband, she goes to one of the grain stores, and takes out a sufficient quantity of either maize or millet, the former being called umbila, and the latter amabele. The great cooking pot is now brought to the circular fireplace, and set on three large stones, so as to allow the fire to burn beneath it. Water and maize are now put into the pot, the cover is luted down, as has already been mentioned, and the fire lighted. The cooking pot is made of clay, which is generally procured by pounding the materials of an ant-hill and kneading it thoroughly with water.

Her next proceeding is to get her mill ready. This is a very rude apparatus, and requires an enormous amount of labor to produce a comparatively small effect. It consists of two parts, namely, the upper and lower millstones, or the bed and the stone. The bed is a large, heavy stone, which has been flat on the upper surface, but which has been slightly hollowed and sloped. The stone is oval in shape, and about eight or nine inches in length, and is, in fact, that kind of stone which is popularly known under the name of “cobble.”

When the corn is sufficiently boiled, and the woman is ready to grind it, she takes it from the pot, and places it on the stone, under which she has spread a mat. She then kneels at the mill, takes the stone in both hands, and with a peculiar rocking and grinding motion reduces it to a tolerably consistent paste. As fast as it is ground, it is forced down the sloping side of the stone, upon a skin which is ready to receive it.[144] This form of mill is perhaps the earliest with which we are acquainted, and it may be found in many parts of the world. In Mexico, for example, the ordinary mill is made on precisely the same principle, though the lower stone is rudely carved so as to stand on three legs.

It is more than probable that the operation of grinding corn, which is so often mentioned in the earlier Scriptures, was performed in just such a mill as the Kaffir woman uses. The labor of grinding the corn is very severe, the whole weight of the body being thrown on the stone, and the hands being fully occupied in rolling and rocking the upper stone upon the lower. Moreover, the labor has to be repeated daily, and oftentimes the poor hard-worked woman is obliged to resume it several times in the day. Only sufficient corn is ground for the consumption of a single meal; and therefore, so often as the men are hungry, so often has she to grind corn for them.

The boiled and ground corn takes a new name, and is now termed “isicaba;” and when a sufficient quantity has been ground, the woman takes it from the mat, puts it into a basket, and brings it to her husband, who is probably asleep or smoking his pipe. She then brings him a bowl, some clotted milk, and his favorite spoon, and leaves him to mix it for himself and take his meal, she not expecting to partake with him, any more than she would expect him to help her in grinding the corn.

As the Kaffir is eminently a social being, he likes to takes his meals in company, and does so in a very orderly fashion.

When a number of Kaffirs meet for a social meal, they seat themselves round the fire, squatted in their usual manner, and always forming themselves into a circle, Kaffir fashion. If they should be very numerous, they will form two or more concentric circles, all close to each other, and all facing inward. The pot is then put on to boil, and while the “mealies,” or heads of maize, are being cooked, they all strike up songs, and sing them until the feast is ready. Sometimes they prefer love songs, and are always fond of songs that celebrate the possession of cattle. These melodies have a chorus that is perfectly meaningless, like the choruses of many of our own popular songs, but the singers become quite infatuated with them. In a well known cattle song, the burden of which is E-e-e-yu-yu-yu, they all accompany the words with gestures. Their hands are clenched, with the palms turned upward; their arms bent, and at each E-e-e they drive their arms out to their full extent; and at each repetition of the syllable “yu,” they bring their elbows against their sides, so as to give additional emphasis to the song. An illustration on page 145, represents such a scene, and is drawn from a sketch by Captain Drayson, R. A., who has frequently been present in such scenes, and learned to take his part in the wild chorus. As to the smoke of the fire, the Kaffirs care nothing for it, although no European singer would be able to utter two notes in such a choking atmosphere, or to see what he was doing in a small hut without window or chimney, and filled with wood smoke. Some snuff gourds are seen on the ground, and on the left hand, just behind a pillar, is the Induna, or head of the kraal, who is the founder of the feast.

The number of Kaffirs that will crowd themselves into a single small hut is almost incredible. Even in the illustration they seem to be tolerably close together, but the fact is, that the artist was obliged to omit a considerable number of individuals in order to give a partial view of the fireplace and the various utensils.

One African traveller gives a very amusing account of a scene similar to that which is depicted in the engraving. In the evening he heard a most singular noise of many voices rising and falling in regular rhythm, and found it to proceed from an edifice which he had taken for a haycock, but which proved to be a Kaffir hut. He put his head into the door, but the atmosphere was almost too much for him, and he could only see a few dying embers, throwing a ruddy glow over a number of Kaffirs squatting round the fireplace, and singing with their usual gesticulations. He estimated their number at ten, thinking that the hut could not possibly hold, much less accommodate, more than that number. However, from that very hut issued thirty-five tall and powerful Kaffirs, and they did not look in the least hot or uncomfortable. The song which they were singing with such energy was upon one of the only two subjects which seem to inspire a Kaffir’s muse, namely, war and cattle. This particular composition treated of the latter subject, and began with “All the calves are drinking water.”

A very graphic account of the method in which the Kaffirs sing in concert is given by Mr. Mason, who seems to have written his description immediately after witnessing the scene, and while the impression was still strong on his mind:—

“By the light of a small oil lamp I was completing my English journal, ready for the mail which sailed next day; and, while thus busily employed, time stole away so softly that it was late ere I closed and sealed it up. A fearful shout now burst from the recesses of the surrounding jungle, apparently within a hundred yards of our tent; in a moment all was still again, and then the yell broke out with increased vigor, till it dinned in our ears, and made the very air shake and vibrate with the clamor. At first we were alarmed, and looked to the priming of our pistols; but, as the sounds approached no nearer, I concluded that it must be part of some Kaffir festival, and determined on ascertaining its meaning; so, putting by the pistol, I started, just as I was, without coat, hat, or waistcoat, and made my way through the dripping boughs of the jungle, toward the spot from whence the strange sounds proceeded.


(See page 144.)

(See page 152.)


“By this time the storm had quite abated; the heavy clouds were rolling slowly from over the rising moon; the drops from the lofty trees fell heavily on the dense bush below; thousands of insects were chirping merrily; and there, louder than all the rest, was the regular rise and fall of some score of Kaffirs. I had already penetrated three hundred yards or more into the bush, when I discovered a large and newly erected Kaffir hut, with a huge fire blazing in its centre, just visible through the dense smoke that poured forth from the little semicircular aperture which served for a doorway. These huts of the Kaffirs are formed of trellis-work, and thatched; in appearance they resemble a well rounded haycock, being, generally, eight or ten feet high at the vertex, circular in form, and from twenty to twenty-five feet broad, with an opening like that of a beehive for a doorway, as before described.

“But, as it was near midnight, it seemed to me that my visit might not be altogether seasonable. However, to have turned back when so near the doorway might have brought an assagai after me, since the occupants of the hut would have attributed a rustling of the bushes, at that late hour, to the presence of a thief or wild beast. I therefore coughed aloud, stooped down, and thrust my head into the open doorway, where a most interesting sight presented itself.

“Fancy three rows of jet-black Kaffirs, ranged in circles around the interior of the hut, sitting knees and nose altogether, waving their well oiled, strongly built frames backward and forward, to keep time in their favorite ‘Dingan’s war-song;’ throwing their arms about, and brandishing the glittering assagai, singing and shouting, uttering a shrill piercing whistle, beating the ground to imitate the heavy tramp of marching men, and making the very woods echo again with their boisterous merriment.

“My presence was unobserved for a moment, until an old gray-headed Kaffir (an Umdodie) pointed his finger toward me. In an instant, the whole phalanx of glaring eyes was turned to the doorway; and silence reigned throughout the demoniac-looking group. A simultaneous exclamation of ‘Molonga! Molonga!’ (white man! white man!) was succeeded by an universal beckon for me to come in and take a place in the ring. This of course I complied with; and, having seen me comfortably seated, they fell to work again more vociferously than ever, till I was well near bewildered with the din, and stifled with the dense smoke issuing from the huge fire in the centre of the ring.”

Dingan’s war-song, which is here mentioned, is rather made in praise of Dingan’s warlike exploits. To a Kaffir, who understands all the allusions made by the poet, it is a marvellously exciting composition, though it loses its chief beauties when translated into a foreign language, and deprived of the peculiar musical rhythm and alliteration which form the great charms of Kaffir poetry. The song was as follows:—

“Thou needy offspring of Umpikazi,
Eyer of the cattle of men.
Bird of Maube, fleet as a bullet,
Sleek, erect, of beautiful parts.
Thy cattle like the comb of the bees,
O herd too large, too huddled to move.
Devourer of Moselekatze, son of Machobana,
Devourer of Swazi, son of Sobuza.
Breaker of the gates of Machobana.
Devourer of Gundave of Machobana.
A monster in size, of mighty power.
Devourer of Ungwati of ancient race;
Devourer of the kingly Uomape;
Like heaven above, raining and shining.”

If the reader will refer to the song in honor of Panda, which is given on page 90, he will see the strong resemblance that exists between the two odes, each narrating some events of the hero’s early life, then diverging into a boast of his great wealth, and ending with a list of his warlike achievements.

Mr. Shooter mentions a second song which was made in honor of Tchaka, as, indeed, he was told by that renowned chief himself. It was composed after that warlike despot had made himself master of the whole of Kaffirland, and the reader will not fail to notice the remarkable resemblance between the burden of the song, “Where will you go out to battle now?” and the lament of Alexander, that there were no more worlds to conquer.

“Thou hast finished, finished the nations!
Where will you go out to battle now?
Hey! where will you go out to battle now?
Thou hast conquered kings!
Where are you going to battle now?
Thou hast finished, finished the nations!
Where are you going to battle now?
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Where are you going to battle now?”

I have already mentioned that in eating his porridge the Kaffir uses a spoon. He takes a wonderful pride in his spoon, and expends more trouble upon it than upon any other article which he possesses, not even his “tails,” pipes, or snuff box, being thought worthy of so much labor as is lavished upon his spoons. Although there is a great variety of patterns among the spoons manufactured by the Kaffir tribes, there is a character about them which is quite unmistakable,[148] and which points out the country of the maker as clearly as if his name were written on it. The bowl, for example, instead of being almost in the same line with the stem, is bent forward at a slight angle, and, instead of being rather deep, is quite shallow. It is almost incapable of containing liquids, and is only adapted for conveying to the mouth the thick porridge which has already been described. Several of these spoons are represented on page 103, drawn from specimens in my collection.

Fig. 1 is a spoon rather more than two feet in length, cut from a stout branch of a tree, as is shown by the radiating circles, denoting the successive annual deposits of woody fibre. The little dark mark in the bowl shows the pithy centre of the branch. The end of the handle is made to represent the head of an assagai, and the peculiar convexity and concavity of that weapon is represented by staining one side of the blade black. This staining process is very simply managed by heating a piece of iron or a stone, and charring the wood with it, so as to make an indelible black mark. Part of the under side of the bowl is stained black in a similar manner, and so is a portion of the handle, this expeditious and easy mode of decoration being in great favor among the Kaffirs, when they are making any article of wood. The heads of the wooden assagais shown on page 103 are stained in the same fashion. According to English ideas, the bowl is of unpleasantly large dimensions, being three inches and a quarter in width. But a Kaffir mouth is a capacious one, and he can use this gigantic instrument without inconvenience.

Fig. 2 represents a singularly elaborate example of a spoon, purchased from a native by the late H. Jackson, Esq. It is more than three feet in length and is slightly curved, whereas the preceding example is straight. The wood of which it is made is much harder than that of the other spoon, and is therefore capable of taking a tolerably high polish. The maker of this spoon has ornamented it in a very curious manner. Five rings are placed round the stem, and these rings are made of the wire-like hairs from the elephant’s tail. They are plaited in the manner that is known to sailors as the “Turk’s-head” knot, and are similar to those that have been mentioned on page 101 as being placed on the handle of the assagai. In order to show the mode in which these rings are made, one of them is given on an enlarged scale.

At the end of the handle of the spoon may be seen a globular knob. This is carved from the same piece of wood as the spoon, and is intended for a snuff box, so that the owner is doubly supplied with luxuries. It is cut in order to imitate a gourd, and, considering the very rude tools which a Kaffir possesses, the skill displayed in hollowing it is very great. Round the neck of the opening is one of the elephant’s hair rings, and at the bottom there is some rather deep carving. This odd snuff box is ornamented by being charred, as is the bowl and the greater part of the stem.

Sometimes the Kaffirs exert great ingenuity in carving the handles of their spoons into rude semblances of various animals. On account of its long neck and legs and sloping back, the giraffe is the favorite. Fig. 1 on page 103 shows one of these spoons. It is rather more than a foot in length, and represents the form of the animal better than might be supposed from the illustration, which is taken from the front, and therefore causes its form to be foreshortened and the characteristic slope of the back to be unseen. It is made of the acacia wood, that being the tree on which the giraffe loves to feed, and which is called by the Dutch settlers “Kameel-dorn,” or camel-thorn, in consequence. The peculiar attitude of the head is a faithful representation of the action of the giraffe when raising its head to browse among the foliage, and the spotted skin is well imitated by application of a red-hot iron.

In some examples of the giraffe spoon, the form of the animal is much better shown, even the joints of the legs being carefully marked, and their action indicated. Sometimes the Kaffir does not make the whole handle into the form of an animal, but cuts the handle of the usual shape, and leaves at the end a large block of solid wood, which he can carve into the required shape. The hippopotamus is frequently chosen for this purpose, and so is the rhinoceros, while the hyæna is always a favorite, apparently because its peculiar outline can easily be imitated in wood.

The reader will probably have noticed the angle at which the shallow bowl is set, and it appears to make the spoon a most inconvenient instrument. If held after the European fashion, the user would scarcely be able to manage it at all, but the Kaffir has his own way of holding it, which is perfectly effective. Instead of taking it between the thumb and the forefinger, he grasps the stem with the whole hand, having the bowl to the left, and the handle to the right. He then dips the shallow bowl into the tenacious porridge, takes up as much as it will possibly hold, and inserts the whole of the bowl into his mouth, the convex side being uppermost. In this position the tongue can lick the spoon quite clean, so as to be ready for the next visit to the porridge.

If a number of Kaffirs are about to partake of a common meal, they always use a common spoon. Were each man to bring his own with him, and all to dip in the pot at once, it is evident that he who had the largest spoon, would get the largest share,[149] than which nothing would be more distasteful to the justice loving Kaffir, besides giving rise to a scene of hurry, and probably contention, which would be a breach of good manners. So the chief man present takes the spoon, helps himself to a mouthful, and hands the clean spoon to his next neighbor. Thus the spoon goes round in regular order, each man having one spoonful at a time, and none having more than another.

This love of justice pervades all classes of Kaffirs, and even adheres to them when they are partially civilized—a result which does not always take place when the savage has taken his first few lessons in the civilization of Europe. Some time ago, when a visitor was inspecting an English school for Kaffir children, he was struck by the method adopted in giving the scholars their meals. Porridge was prepared for them, and served out by one of their own nation, who used the most scrupulous accuracy in dividing the food. She was not content with giving to each child an apparently equal share, but went twice or thrice round the circle, adding to one portion and taking away from another, until all were equally served. Not until she was satisfied that the distribution was a just one, did the dusky scholars think of beginning their meal.

Sometimes the Kaffirs will amuse themselves by making spoons of the most portentous dimensions, which would baffle even the giants of our nursery tales, did they endeavor to use such implements. One of these gigantic spoons is in the collection of Colonel Lane Fox. It is shaped much like fig. 1, in the illustration at page 103, and if very much reduced in size would be a serviceable Kaffir spoon of the ordinary kind. But it is between five and six feet in length, its stem is as thick as a man’s arm, and its bowl large enough to accommodate his whole head.

At fig. 2 of the illustration on the upper part of same page may be seen an article which looks like a spoon, but rather deserves the name of ladle, as it is used for substances more liquid than the porridge. It is carved from a single piece of wood, and it is a singular fact that the maker should have been able to carve the deeply grooved handle without the aid of a lathe. If this handle be turned round on its axis, so that the eye can follow the spiral course of the grooves, it becomes evident that they have been cut without the use of any machinery. But the truth of their course is really wonderful, and the carver of this handsome handle has taken care to darken the spiral grooves by the application of a hot iron. This remarkable specimen was brought from Africa by the Rev. J. Shooter, and the illustration has been taken from the specimen itself.

Two more similar ladles are illustrated on page 155. The uppermost figure represents a ladle about fourteen inches in length. The pattern has no pretence to elaborate detail; but the whole form is very bold and decided, and the carver has evidently done his work thoroughly, and on a definite plan. The black marks on the stem and handle are made by a hot iron, and the under surface of the bowl is decorated with two triangular marks made in the same manner.

At figure 2 of the same illustration is shown a rather remarkable ladle. It is eighteen inches in length, and the bowl is both wide and deep. It is made from the hard wood of the acacia, and must have cost the carver a considerable amount of trouble. In carving the ladle, the maker has set himself to shape the handle in such a manner that it resembles a bundle of small sticks tied together by a band at the end and another near the middle. So well has he achieved this feat that, when I first saw this ladle, in rather dim light, I really thought that some ingenious artificer had contrived to make a number of twigs start from one part of a branch, and had carved that portion of the branch into the bowl, and had tied the twigs together to form the handle. He has heightened the deception, by charring the sham bands black, while the rest of the handle is left of its natural color. Figs. 3 and 4 of the same illustration will be presently described.

There is an article of food which is used by the natives, in its proper season, and does not prepossess a European in its favor. This is the locust, the well-known insect which sweeps in countless myriads over the land, and which does such harm to the crops and to everything that grows. The eggs of the locust are laid in the ground, and at the proper season the young make their appearance. They are then very small, but they grow with great rapidity—as, indeed, they ought to do, considering the amount of food which they consume. Until they have passed a considerable time in the world, they have no wings, and can only crawl and hop. The Kaffirs call these imperfect locusts “boyane,” and the Dutch settlers term them “voetgangers,” or “foot-goers,” because they cannot fly. Even in this stage they are terribly destructive, and march steadily onward consuming every green thing that they can eat.

Nothing stops them in their progress short of death, and, on account of their vast myriads, the numbers that can be killed form but an insignificant proportion of the whole army. A stream of these insects, a mile or more in width, will pass over a country, and scarcely anything short of a river will stop them. Trenches are soon filled up with their bodies, and those in the rear march over the carcasses of their dead comrades. Sometimes the trenches have been filled with fire, but to no purpose, as the fire is soon put out by the locusts that come[150] crowding upon it. As for walls, the insects care nothing for them, but surmount them, and even the very houses, without suffering a check.

When they become perfect insects and gain their wings, they proceed, as before, in vast myriads; but this time, they direct their course through the air, and not merely on land, so that not even the broadest river can stop them. They generally start as soon as the sun has dispelled the dews and warmed the air, which, in its nightly chill, paralyzes them, and renders them incapable of flight and almost unable even to walk. Toward evening they always descend, and perhaps in the daytime also; and wherever they alight, every green thing vanishes. The sound of their jaws cutting down the leaves and eating them can be heard at a great distance. They eat everything of a vegetable nature. Mr. Moffatt saw a whole field of maize consumed in two hours, and has seen them eat linen, flannel, and even tobacco. When they rise for another flight, the spot which they have left is as bare as if it were desert land, and not a vestige of any kind of verdure is to be seen upon it.

A very excellent description of a flight of locusts is given by Mr. Cole, in his work on South Africa:—

“Next day was warm enough, but the wind was desperately high, and, much to my disgust, right in my face as I rode away on my journey. After travelling some ten miles, having swallowed several ounces of sand meanwhile, and been compelled occasionally to remove the sand-hills that were collecting in my eyes, I began to fall in with some locusts. At first they came on gradually and in small quantities, speckling the earth here and there, and voraciously devouring the herbage.

“They were not altogether pleasant, as they are weak on the wing, and quite at the mercy of the wind, which uncivilly dashed many a one into my face with a force that made my cheeks tingle. By degrees they grew thicker and more frequent. My progress was now most unpleasant, for they flew into my face every instant. Flung against me and my horse by the breeze, they clung to us with the tightness of desperation, till we were literally speckled with locusts. Each moment the clouds of them became denser, till at length—I am guilty of no exaggeration in saying—they were as thick in the air as the flakes of snow during a heavy fall of it; they covered the grass and the road, so that at every step my horse crushed dozens; they were whirled into my eyes and those of my poor nag, till at last the latter refused to face them, and turned tail in spite of whip and spur. They crawled about my face and neck, got down my shirt collar and up my sleeves—in a word they drove me to despair as completely as they drove my horse to stubbornness, and I was obliged to ride back a mile or two, and claim shelter from them at a house I had passed on my route; fully convinced that a shower of locusts is more unbearable than hail, rain, snow, and sleet combined. I found the poor farmer in despair at the dreadful visitation which had come upon him—and well he might be so. To-day he had standing crops, a garden, and wide pasture lands in full verdure; the next day the earth was as bare all round as a macadamized road.

“I afterwards saw millions of these insects driven by the wind into the sea at Algoa Bay, and washed on shore again in such heaps, that the prisoners and coolies in the town were busily employed for a day or two in burying the bodies, to prevent the evil consequence that would arise from the putrefying of them close to the town. No description of these little plagues, or of the destruction they cause, can well be an exaggeration. Fortunately, their visitations are not frequent, as I only remember three during my five years’ residence in South Africa. Huge fires are sometimes lighted round corn-lands and gardens to prevent their approach; and this is an effective preventive when they can steer their own course; but when carried away by such a wind as I have described, they can only go where it drives them, and all the bonfires in the world would be useless to stay their progress. The farmer thus eaten out of house and home (most literally) has nothing to do but to move his stock forthwith to some other spot which has escaped them—happy if he can find a route free from their devastation, so that his herds and flocks may not perish by the way.”

Fortunately, their bodies being heavy in proportion to their wings, they cannot fly against the wind, and it often happens that, as in the old Scripture narrative, a country is relieved by a change of wind, which drives the insects into the sea, where they are drowned; and, as Mr. Cole observes, they were driven by the wind into his face or upon his clothes, as helplessly as the cockchafers on a windy summer evening. Still, terrible as are the locusts, they have their uses. In the first place, they afford food to innumerable animals. As they fly, large flocks of birds wait on them, sweep among them and devour them on the wing. While they are on the ground, whether in their winged or imperfect state, they are eaten by various animals; even the lion and other formidable carnivora not disdaining so easily gained a repast. As the cool air of the night renders the locusts incapable of moving, they can be captured without difficulty. Even to mankind the locusts are serviceable, being a favorite article of food. It is true that these insects devour whole crops, but it may be doubted whether they do not confer a benefit[151] on the dusky cultivators rather than inflict an injury.

As soon as the shades of evening render the locusts helpless, the natives turn out in a body, with sacks, skins, and everything that can hold the expected prey, those who possess such animals bringing pack oxen in order to bear the loads home. The locusts are swept by millions into the sacks, without any particular exertion on the part of the natives, though not without some danger, as venomous serpents are apt to come for the purpose of feeding on the insects, and are sometimes roughly handled in the darkness.

When the locusts have been brought home, they are put into a large covered pot, such as has already been described, and a little water added to them. The fire is then lighted under the pot, and the locusts are then boiled, or rather steamed, until they are sufficiently cooked. They are then taken out of the pot, and spread out in the sunbeams until they are quite dry; and when this part of the process is completed, they are shaken about in the wind until the legs and wings fall off, and are carried away just as the chaff is carried away by the breeze when corn is winnowed. When they are perfectly dry, they are stored away in baskets, or placed in the granaries just as if they were corn.

Sometimes the natives eat them whole, just as we eat shrimps, and, if they can afford such a luxury, add a little salt to them. Usually, however, the locusts are treated much in the same manner as corn or maize. They are ground to powder by the mill until they are reduced to meal, which is then mixed with water, so as to form a kind of porridge. A good locust season is always acceptable to the natives, who can indulge their enormous appetites to an almost unlimited extent, and in consequence become quite fat in comparison with their ordinary appearance. So valuable, indeed, are the locusts, that if a native conjurer can make his companions believe that his incantations have brought the locusts, he is sure to be richly rewarded by them.

Meat, when it can be obtained, is the great luxury of a Kaffir. Beef is his favorite meat; but he will eat that of many of the native animals, though there are some, including all kinds of fish, which he will not touch. With a very few exceptions, such as the eland, the wild animals of Southern Africa do not furnish very succulent food. Venison when taken from a semi-domesticated red deer, or a three-parts domesticated fallow deer, is a very different meat when obtained from a wild deer or antelope. As a general rule, such animals have very little fat about them, and their flesh, by reason of constant exercise and small supply of food, is exceedingly tough, and would baffle the jaws of any but a very hungry man.

Fortunately for the Kaffirs, their teeth and jaws are equal to any task that can be imposed upon them in the way of mastication, and meat which an European can hardly manage to eat is a dainty to his dark companions. The late Gordon Cumming, who had as much experience in hunter life as most men, used to say that a very good idea of the meat which is usually obtained by the gun in Kaffirland may be gained by taking the very worst part of the toughest possible beef, multiplying the toughness by ten, and subtracting all the gravy.

The usual plan that is adopted is, to eat at once the best parts of an animal, and to cure the rest by drying it in the sun. This process is a very simple one. The meat is cut into thin, long strips, and hung on branches in the open air. The burning sunbeams soon have their effect, and convert the scarlet strips of raw meat into a substance that looks like old shoe-leather, and is nearly as tough. The mode of dressing it is, to put it under the ashes of the fire, next to pound it between two stones, and then to stew it slowly in a pot, just as is done with fresh beef. Of course, this mode of cooking meat is only employed on the march, when the soldiers are unable to take with them the cooking-pots of domestic life.

Sometimes, especially when returning from an unsuccessful war, the Kaffirs are put to great straits for want of food, and have recourse to the strangest expedients for allaying hunger. They begin by wearing a “hunger-belt,” i. e. a belt passed several times round the body, and arranged so as to press upon the stomach, and take off for a time the feeling of faint sickness that accompanies hunger before it develops into starvation. As the hours pass on, and the faintness again appears, the hunger-belt is drawn tighter and tighter. This curious remedy for hunger is to be found in many parts of the world, and has long been practised by the native tribes of North America.

The hungry soldiers, when reduced to the last straits, have been known to eat their hide-shields, and, when these were finished, to consume even the thongs which bind the head of the assagai to the shaft. The same process of cooking is employed in making the tough skin eatable; namely, partial broiling under ashes, then pounding between stones, and then stewing, or boiling, if any substitute for a cooking-pot can be found. One of the missionaries relates, in a manner that shows the elastic spirit which animated him, how he and his companions were once driven to eat a box which he had made of rhinoceros hide, and seems rather to regret the loss of so excellent a box than to demand any sympathy for the hardships which he had sustained.

We now come to the question of the liquids which a Kaffir generally consumes.[152] Ordinary men are forced to content themselves with water, and there are occasions when they would only be too glad to obtain even water. Certain ceremonies demand that the warriors shall be fed plenteously with beef during the night, but that they shall not be allowed to drink until the dawn of the following day. At the beginning of the feast they are merry enough; for beef is always welcome to a Kaffir, and to be allowed to eat as much as he can possibly manage to accommodate is a luxury which but seldom occurs.

However, the time comes, even to a hungry Kaffir, when he cannot possibly eat any more, and he craves for something to drink. This relief is strictly prohibited, no one being allowed to leave the circle in which they are sitting. It generally happens that some of the younger “boys,” who have been but recently admitted into the company of soldiers, find themselves unable to endure such a privation, and endeavor to slip away unobserved. But a number of old and tried warriors, who have inured themselves to thirst as well as hunger, and who look with contempt on all who are less hardy than themselves, are stationed at every point of exit, and, as soon as they see the dusky form of a deserter approach the spot which they are guarding, they unceremoniously attack him with their sticks, and beat him back to his place in the circle.

On the march, if a Kaffir is hurried, and comes to a spot where there is water, he stoops down, and with his curved hand flings the water into his mouth with movements almost as rapid as those of a cat’s tongue when she laps milk. Sometimes, if he comes to a river, which he has to ford, he will contrive to slake his thirst as he proceeds, without once checking his speed. This precaution is necessary if he should be pursued, or if the river should happen to be partially infested with crocodiles and other dangerous reptiles. (See engraving No. 2 on p. 145.)

Kaffirs are also very fond of a kind of whey, which is poured off from the milk when it is converted into “amasi,” and which is something like our buttermilk to the taste. Still, although the Kaffirs can put up with water, and like their buttermilk, they have a craving for some fermented liquor. Water and buttermilk are very well in their way; but they only serve for quenching thirst, and have nothing sociable about them. Now the Kaffir is essentially a sociable being, as has already been mentioned, and he likes nothing better than sitting in a circle of friends, talking, grinding snuff or taking it, smoking, and drinking. And, when he joins in such indulgences, he prefers that his drink should be of an intoxicating nature, therein following the usual instincts of mankind all over the world.

There are few nations who do not know how to make intoxicating drinks, and the Kaffir is not likely to be much behindhand in this respect. The only fermented drink which the genuine Kaffirs use is a kind of beer, called in the native tongue “outchualla.” Like all other savages, the Kaffirs very much prefer the stronger potations that are made by Europeans; and their love for whisky, rum, and brandy has been the means of ruining, and almost extinguishing, many a tribe—just as has been the case in Northern America. The quantity of spirituous liquid that a Kaffir can drink is really astonishing; and the strangest thing is, that he will consume nearly a bottle of the commonest and coarsest spirit, and rise at daybreak on the next morning without even a headache.

The beer which the Kaffirs make is by no means a heady liquid, and seems to have rather a fattening than an intoxicating quality. All men of note drink large quantities of beer, and the chief of a tribe rarely stirs without having a great vessel of beer at hand, together with his gourd cup and ladle. The operations of brewing are conducted entirely by the women, and are tolerably simple, much resembling the plan which is used in England. Barley is not employed for this purpose, the grain of maize or millet being substituted for it.

The grain is first encouraged to a partial sprouting by being wrapped in wet mats, and is then killed by heat, so as to make it into malt, resembling that which is used in our own country. The next process is to put it into a vessel, and let it boil for some time, and afterward to set it aside for fermentation. The Kaffir has no yeast, but employs a rather curious substitute for it, being the stem of a species of ice-plant, dried and kept ready for use. As the liquid ferments, a scum arises to the top, which is carefully removed by means of an ingenious skimmer, shown at figs. 3 and 4, on page 155. This skimmer is very much like those wire implements used by our cooks for taking vegetables out of hot water, and is made of grass stems very neatly woven together; a number of them forming the handle, and others spreading out like the bowl of a spoon. The bowls of these skimmers are set at different angles, so as to suit the vessel in which fermentation is carried on.

When the beer is poured into the vessel in which it is kept for use, it is passed through a strainer, so as to prevent any of the malt from mixing with it. One of these strainers is shown at fig. 3, on page 67. The specimen from which the drawing was taken is in my own collection, and is a good sample of the Kaffir’s workmanship. It is made of reeds, split and flattened; each reed being rather more than the fifth of an inch wide at the opening and the twelfth of an inch at the smaller end, and being carefully graduated in width. In shape it resembles a jelly-bag, and, indeed, has much the same[153] office to perform. The reeds are woven in the “under three and over three” fashion, so as to produce a zigzag pattern; and the conical shape of the strainer is obtained, not by any alteration in the mode of weaving, but by the gradual diminution of the reeds. These strainers are of various sizes; but my own specimen, which is of the average dimensions, measures fifteen inches in length, and nine in width across the opening.

Beer, like milk, is kept in baskets, which the Kaffirs are capable of making so elaborately, that they can hold almost any liquid as well as if they were casks made by the best European coopers. Indeed, the fineness and beauty of the Kaffir basket-work may excite the admiration, if not the envy, of civilized basket-makers, who, however artistic may be the forms which they produce, would be sadly puzzled if required to make a basket that would hold beer, wine, or even milk.

One of the ordinary forms of beer basket may be seen in the illustration on page 67, the small mouth being for the greater convenience of pouring it out. Others can be seen in the illustration on page 63, representing the interior of a Kaffir hut. Beer baskets of various sizes are to be found in every kraal, and are always kept in shady places, to prevent the liquid from being injured by heat. A Kaffir chief hardly seems to be able to support existence without his beer. Within his own house, or in the shadow of a friendly screen, he will sit by the hour together, smoking his enormous pipe continually, and drinking his beer at tolerably constant intervals, thus contriving to consume a considerable amount both of tobacco and beer. Even if he goes out to inspect his cattle, or to review his soldiers, a servant is sure to be with him, bearing his beer basket, stool, and other luxurious appendages of state.

He generally drinks out of a cup, which he makes from a gourd, and which, in shape and size, much resembles an emu’s egg with the top cut off. For the purpose of taking the beer out of the basket, and pouring it into the cup, he uses a ladle of some sort. The form which is most generally in use is that which is made from a kind of gourd; not egg-shaped, like that from which the cup is made, but formed very much like an onion with the stalk attached to it. The bulb of the onion represents the end of the gourd, and it will be seen that when a slice is cut off this globular end, and the interior of the gourd removed, a very neat ladle can be produced. As the outer skin of the gourd is of a fine yellow color, and has a high natural polish, the cup and ladle have a very pretty appearance.

Sometimes the Kaffir carves his ladles out of wood, and displays much skill and taste in their construction, as may be seen by the specimens. Occasionally the beer bowl is carved from wood as well as the ladle; but, on account of its weight when empty, and the time employed in making it, none but a chief is likely to make use of such a bowl. One of these wooden bowls is shown at fig. 2, in the illustration on page 67, and is drawn from a specimen brought from Southern Africa by Mr. H. Jackson. It is of large dimensions, as may be seen by comparing it with the milkpail at fig. 1. The color of the bowl is black.

It is rather remarkable that the Kaffir who carved this bowl has been so used to baskets as beer vessels that he has not been able to get the idea out of his mind. The bowl is painfully wrought out of a single block of wood, and must have cost an enormous amount of labor, considering the rudeness of the tools used by the carver. According to our ideas, the bowl ought therefore to show that it really is something more valuable than usual, and as unlike the ordinary basket as possible. But so wedded has been the maker to the notion that a basket, and nothing but a basket, is the proper vessel for beer, that he has taken great pains to carve the whole exterior in imitation of a basket. So well and regularly is this decoration done, that when the bowl is set some little distance, or placed in the shade, many persons mistake it for a basket set on three wooden legs, and stained black.

At fig. 5 of the same illustration is an example of the Kaffir’s basket-work. This is one of the baskets used by the women when they have been to the fields, and have to carry home the ears of maize or other produce. This basket is very stout and strong, and will accommodate a quantity of corn which would form a good load for an average English laborer. But she considers this hard work as part of woman’s mission, asks one of her companions to assist in placing it on her head, and goes off with her burden, often lightening the heavy task by joining in a chorus with her similarly-laden friends. Indeed, as has been well said by an experienced missionary, in the normal state of the Kaffir tribes the woman serves every office in husbandry, and herself fulfils the duties of field laborer, plough, cart, ox, and horse.

Basket-work is used for an infinity of purposes. It is of basket-work, for example, that the Kaffir makes his curious and picturesque storehouses, in which he keeps the corn that he is likely to require for household use. These storehouses are always raised some height from the ground, for the double purpose of keeping vermin from devastating them, and of allowing a free passage to the air round them, and so keeping their contents dry and in good condition. Indeed, the very houses are formed of a sort of basket-work, as may be seen by reference to Chapter VII.; and even their[154] kraals, or villages, are little more than basket-work on a very large scale.

Almost any kind of flexible material seems to answer for baskets, and the Kaffir workman impresses into his service not only the twigs of pliant bushes, like the osier and willow, but uses grass stems, grass leaves, rushes, flags, reeds, bark, and similar materials. When he makes those that are used for holding liquids, he always uses fine materials, and closes the spaces between them by beating down each successive row with an instrument that somewhat resembles a very stout paper-knife, and that is made either of wood, bone, or ivory. As is the case with casks, pails, quaighs, and all vessels that are made with staves, the baskets must be well soaked before they become thoroughly water-tight.

One of these baskets is in my own collection. It is most beautifully made, and certainly surpasses vessels of wood or clay in one respect; namely, that it will bear very rough treatment without breaking. The mode of weaving it is peculiarly intricate. A vast amount of grass is employed in its construction, the work is very close, and the ends of the innumerable grass blades are so neatly woven into the fabric as scarcely to be distinguishable. Soon after it came into my possession, I sent it to a conversazione, together with a large number of ethnological curiosities, and, knowing that very few would believe in its powers without actual proof, I filled it with milk, and placed it on the table. Although it had been in England for some time, and had evidently undergone rather rough treatment, it held the milk very well. There was a very slight leakage, caused by a mistake of the former proprietor, who had sewed a label upon it with a very coarse needle, leaving little holes, through which a few drops of milk gradually oozed. With this exception, however, the basket was as serviceable as when it was in use among the Kaffir huts.

Honey is a very favorite food with the Kaffirs, who are expert at attacking the nests, and removing the combs in spite of the attacks of the bees. They detect a bees’ nest in many ways, and, among other plans for finding the nest, they set great value on the bird called the honey-guide. There are several species of honey-guide, two of which are tolerably common in Southern Africa, and all of which belong to the cuckoo family. These birds are remarkable for the trust which they instinctively repose in mankind, and the manner in which they act as guides to the nest. Whenever a Kaffir hears a bird utter a peculiar cry, which has been represented by the word “Cherr! cherr!” he looks out for the singer, and goes in the direction of the voice. The bird, seeing that the man is following, begins to approach the bees’ nest, still uttering its encouraging cry, and not ceasing until the nest is found.

The Kaffirs place great reliance on the bird, and never eat all the honey, but make a point of leaving some for the guide that conducted them to the sweet storehouse. They say that the honey-guide voluntarily seeks the help of man, because it would otherwise be unable to get at the bee-combs, which are made in hollow trees, thus being protected in secure fortresses, which the bird could not penetrate without the assistance of some being stronger than itself. And as the bird chiefly wants the combs which contain the bee-grubs, and the man only wants those which contain honey, the Kaffir leaves all the grub-combs for the bird, and takes all the honey-combs himself; so that both parties are equally pleased. Whether this be the case or not, it is certain that the bird does perform this service to mankind, and that both the Kaffir and the bird seem to understand each other. The honey-ratel, one of the largest species of the weasel tribe, and an animal which is extremely fond of bee-combs, is said to share with mankind the privilege of alliance with the honey-guide, and to requite the aid of the bird with the comb which it tears out of the hollow tree. It is remarkable that both the ratel and the honey-guide are so thickly defended, the one with fur, and the other with feathers, that the stings of the bees cannot penetrate through their natural armor.

It is rather curious, however, that the honey-guide does not invariably lead to the nests of bees. It has an odd habit of guiding the attention of mankind to any animal which may be hiding in the bush, and the wary traveller is always careful to have his weapons ready when he follows the honey-guide, knowing that, although the bird generally leads the way to honey, it has an unpleasant custom of leading to a concealed buffalo, or lion, or panther, or even to a spot where a cobra or other poisonous snake is reposing.

Although honey is much prized by Kaffirs, they exercise much caution in eating it; and before they will trust themselves to taste it, they inspect the neighborhood, with the purpose of seeing whether certain poisonous plants grow in the vicinity, as in that case the honey is sure to be deleterious. The euphorbia is one of these poisonous plants, and belongs to a large order, which is represented in England by certain small plants known by the common denomination of spurge. One of them, commonly called milky-weed, sun-spurge, or wort-spurge, is well known for the white juice which pours plentifully from the wounded stem, and which is used in some places as a means of destroying warts. In our own country the juice is only remarkable for its milky appearance and its hot acrid taste, which abides in the mouth for a wonderfully long time; but in Africa the euphorbias grow to the dimensions of trees, and the juice is used in many parts of that continent as a poison for arrows. Some of them look so like the cactus group that they might be mistaken for those plants; but they are easily known by the milky juice that pours from them when wounded, and by the fact that their thorns, when they have any, grow singly, and not in clusters, like those of the cactus. The white juice furnishes, when evaporated, a highly poisonous drug, called euphorbium.


(1.) HARP.
(See page 211.)

(See page 56.)

(3.) 1, SPOON. 2, LADLE. 3, 4, SKIMMERS.
(See page 149.)

(See page 164.)

(See page 157.)


Honey is often found in very singular places. A swarm has been known to take possession of a human skull, and combs have been discovered in the skeleton framework of a dead elephant.

Like many other nations, the Zulus use both poultry and their eggs for food, and both are employed as objects of barter. The unfortunate fowls that are selected for this purpose must be singularly uncomfortable; for they are always tied in bundles of three, their legs being firmly bound together. While the bargaining is in progress, the fowls are thrown heedlessly on the ground, where they keep up a continual cackling, as if complaining of their hard treatment. The Kaffir does not intend to be cruel to the poor birds; but he has really no idea that he is indicting pain on them, and will carry them for miles by the legs, their heads hanging down, and their legs cut by the cords.

An illustration on page 155 represents one of the ingenious houses which the Kaffirs build for their poultry. The house is made of rough basket-work, and is then plastered thickly with clay, just like the low walls of the cooking-house mentioned on page 139. By the side of the henhouse is an earthenware jar, with an inverted basket by way of cover. This jar holds corn, and in front of it is one of the primitive grain mills. A beer bowl and its ladle are placed near the mill.

It is a curious fact that nothing can induce the Kaffirs to eat fish, this prejudice being shared by many nations, while others derive a great part of their subsistence from the sea and the river. They seem to feel as much disgust at the notion of eating fish as we do at articles of diet such as caterpillars, earthworms, spiders, and other creatures, which are considered as dainties in some parts of the world.

In the article of diet the Zulus are curiously particular, rejecting many articles of food which the neighboring tribes eat without scruple, and which even the European settlers do not refuse. As has already been mentioned, fish of all kinds is rejected, and so are reptiles. The true Zulu will not eat any species of monkey nor the hyæna, and in this particular we can sympathize with them. But it is certainly odd to find that the prohibited articles of food include many of the animals which inhabit Africa, and which are eaten not only by the other tribes, but by the white men. The most extraordinary circumstance is, that the Zulus will not eat the eland, an animal whose flesh is far superior to that of any English ox, is preferred even to venison, and can be procured in large quantities, owing to its size.

Neither will the Zulus eat the zebra, the gnu, the hartebeest, nor the rhinoceros; and the warriors refrain from the flesh of the elephant, the hippopotamus, and the wild swine. The objection to eat these animals seems to have extended over a considerable portion of Southern Africa; but when Tchaka overran the country, and swept off all the herds of cattle, the vanquished tribes were obliged either to eat the hitherto rejected animals or starve, and naturally preferred the former alternative. It is probable that the custom of repudiating certain articles of food is founded upon some of the superstitious ideas which take the place of a religion in the Kaffir’s mind. It is certain that superstition prohibits fowls, ducks, bustards, porcupines, and eggs, to all except the very young and the old, because the Kaffirs think that those who eat such food will never enjoy the honorable title of father or mother; and, as is well known, a childless man or woman is held in the supremest contempt.

There is perhaps no article of food more utterly hateful to the Kaffir than the flesh of the crocodile, and it is doubtful whether even the pangs of starvation would induce a Zulu Kaffir to partake of such food, or to hold friendly intercourse with any one who had done so. An amusing instance of this innate horror of the crocodile occurred some years ago. An European settler, new to the country, had shot a crocodile, and having heard much of the properties possessed by the fat of the reptile, he boiled some of its flesh for the purpose of obtaining it. Unfortunately for him, the only vessel at hand was an iron pot, in which his Kaffir servants were accustomed to cook their food, and, thinking no harm, he used the pot for his purpose. He could not have done anything more calculated to shock the feelings of the Kaffirs, who deserted him in a body, leaving the polluted vessel behind them.

It has already been mentioned that none but a Kaffir can either drive or milk the native cattle, and the unfortunate colonist was obliged to visit all the kraals within reach in order to hire new servants. But the news had spread in all directions, that the white man cooked crocodile in his porridge pot, and not a single Kaffir would serve him. At last he was forced to go to a considerable distance, and visited a kraal which he[158] thought was beyond the reach of rumor. The chief man received him hospitably, promised to send one of his “boys” as a servant, and volunteered permission to beat the “boy” if he were disobedient. He finished by saying that he only made one stipulation, and that was, that the “boy” in question should not be obliged to eat crocodile.

It will be understood that these peculiarities regarding food apply only to the Zulu tribe, and that, even in that tribe, great modifications have taken place in later years.




After the food of the Kaffir tribes, we naturally come to their luxuries. One of these luxuries, namely, beer, is scarcely considered as such by them, but is reckoned as one of the necessaries of life. There is, however, one gratification in which the Kaffir indulges whenever he can do so, and that is the use of tobacco, either in the form of smoke or snuff. The love of tobacco, which is universally prevalent over the world, is fully developed in the Kaffir, as in all the savage tribes of Africa. For tobacco the native undergoes exertions which no other reward would induce him to undertake. He is not at all particular about the quality, provided that it be strong, and it is impossible to produce tobacco that can be too coarse, rough, or powerful for his taste. He likes to feel its effects on his system, and would reject the finest flavored cigar for a piece of rank stick tobacco that an English gentleman would be unable to smoke. He uses tobacco in two forms, namely, smoke and snuff, and in both cases likes to feel that he has the full flavor of the narcotic.

His snuff is made in a very simple manner, and is mostly manufactured by the women. The first process is to grind the tobacco to powder between two stones, and when it is partially rubbed down a little water is added, so as to convert it into a paste. Meanwhile, a number of twigs are being carefully burnt to ashes, a pure white feathery ash being one of the chief ingredients. The leaf of the aloe, previously dried, is often used for this purpose, and by connoisseurs is preferred to any other material. When the snuff maker judges that the tobacco is sufficiently ground, she spreads the paste upon a flat stone, and places it in the rays of the sun. The great heat soon dries up the caked tobacco, which is then rubbed until it becomes a very fine powder. A certain proportion of wood-ash is then added and carefully mixed, and the snuff is made. The effect of the ashes is to give pungency to the snuff, such as cannot be obtained from the pure tobacco. Of this snuff the Kaffirs are immoderately fond, and even European snuff takers often prefer it to any snuff that can be purchased. I know one African traveller, who acquired the habit of snuff taking among the Kaffirs, and who, having learned to make snuff in Kaffir fashion, continues to manufacture his own snuff, thinking it superior to any that can be obtained at the tobacconists’ shops.

The manner of taking snuff is, among the Kaffirs, by no means the simple process in use among ourselves. Snuff taking almost assumes the character of a solemn rite, and is never performed with the thoughtless levity of an European snuff taker. A Kaffir never thinks of taking snuff while standing, but must needs sit down for the purpose, in some place and at some time when he will not be disturbed. If he happens to be a man tolerably well off, he will have a snuff spoon ready stuck in his hair, and will draw it out.[160] These snuff spoons are very similar in form, although they slightly differ in detail. They are made of bone or ivory, and consist of a small bowl set on a deeply pronged handle. Some spoons have two prongs, but the generality have three. The bowl is mostly hemispherical, but in some specimens it is oblong. I possess specimens of both forms, and also a snuff spoon from Madagascar, which is very similar both in shape and size to that which is used by the Kaffir.

Supposing him to have a spoon, he takes his snuff box out of his ear, or from his belt, and solemnly fills the bowl of the spoon. He then replaces the box, inserts the bowl of the spoon into his capacious nostrils, and with a powerful inhalation exhausts the contents. The pungent snuff causes tears to pour down his cheeks; and as if to make sure that they shall follow their proper course, the taker draws the edges of his thumbs down his face, so as to make a kind of groove in which the tears can run from the inner angle of the eyes to the corner of the mouth. This flood of tears constitutes the Kaffir’s great enjoyment in snuff taking, and it is contrary to all etiquette to speak to a Kaffir, or to disturb him in any way, while he is taking his snuff.

If, as is often the case, he is not rich enough to possess a spoon, he manages it in another fashion. Taking care to seat himself in a spot which is sheltered from the wind, he pours the snuff on the back of his hand, making a little conical heap that exactly coincides with his wide nostrils. By putting the left side of his nose on the snuff heap, and closing the other nostril with his forefinger, he contrives to absorb it all without losing a grain of the precious substance—an act which he would consider as the very acme of folly.

The rules of etiquette are especially minute as regards snuff taking.

It is considered bad manners to offer snuff to another, because to offer a gift implies superiority; the principal man in each assembly being always called upon to give snuff to the others. There is an etiquette even in asking for snuff. If one Kaffir sees another taking snuff, he does not ask directly for it, but puts a sidelong question, saying, “What are you eating?” The first answer to this question is always to the effect that he is not eating anything, which is the polite mode of refusing the request—a refusal to the first application being part of the same singular code of laws. When a second request is made in the same indirect manner as the former, he pours a quantity of snuff into the palm of his left hand, and holds it out for the other to help himself, and, at the same time, looks carefully in another direction, so that he may not seem to watch the quantity which is taken, and to appear to grudge the gift. Or, if several be present, and he is a rich man, he helps himself first, and then throws the box to his guests, abstaining, as before, from looking at them as they help themselves. When a chief has summoned his dependants, he calls a servant, who holds his two open hands together, so as to form a cup. The chief then fills his hands with snuff, and the servant carries the valued gift to the guests as they sit around.

It has already been mentioned that when a Kaffir takes snuff, he sits on the ground. This is one of the many small points of etiquette which the natives observe with the minutest care. Its infringement is looked upon not only as an instance of bad manners, but as a tacit acknowledgment that the man who stands up while he is engaged with his snuff with another is trying to take advantage of him. Mr. Shooter remarks that many a man has been murdered by being entrapped into snuff taking, and then stabbed while in a defenceless position. The very act of holding out one hand filled with snuff, while the other is occupied with the snuff box, prevents the donor from using his weapons, so that he might be easily overpowered by any one who was inclined to be treacherous.

The reader will probably have observed the analogy between this custom and an ancient etiquette of England, a relic of which still survives in the “grace cup” handed round at municipal banquets. There are few points in Kaffir life more remarkable than the minute code of etiquette concerning the use of tobacco. It must have been of very recent growth, because tobacco, although much cultivated in Africa, is not indigenous to that country, and has been introduced from America. It almost seems as if some spirit of courtesy were inherent in the plant, and thus the African black man and the American red man are perforce obliged to observe careful ceremonial in its consumption.

It might naturally be thought that the constant inhalations of such quantities of snuff, and that of so pungent a character, would injure the olfactory nerves to such an extent that they would be scarcely able to perform their office. Such, however, is not the case. The Kaffir’s nose is a wonderful organ. It is entirely unaffected by the abominable scent proceeding from the rancid grease with which the natives plenteously besmear themselves, and suffers no inconvenience from the stifling atmosphere of the hut where many inmates are assembled. But, notwithstanding all these assaults upon it, conjoined with the continual snuff taking, it can detect odors which are quite imperceptible to European nostrils, and appears to be nearly as sensitive as that of the bloodhound.

Being so fond of their snuff, the Kaffirs lavish all their artistic powers on the boxes in which they carry so valuable a substance. They make their snuff boxes of various materials,[161] such as wood, bone, ivory, horn; and just as Europeans employ gems and the precious metals in the manufacture of their snuff boxes, so do the Kaffirs use for the same purpose the materials they most value, and exhaust upon them the utmost resources of their simple arts.

One of the commonest forms of snuff box is a small tube, about three inches in length, and half an inch in diameter. This is merely a joint of reed, with its open end secured by a plug. The natural color of the reed is shining yellow; but the Kaffir mostly decorates it with various patterns, made by partially charring the surface. These patterns are differently disposed; but in general form they are very similar, consisting of diamonds and triangles of alternate black and yellow. This box answers another purpose besides that of holding the snuff, and is used as an ornament. The correct method of wearing it is to make a hole in the lobe of the ear, and push the snuff box into it. In that position it is always at hand, and the bold black and yellow pattern has a good effect against the dark cheek of the wearer. This box is seen at fig. 6 of “dress and ornaments,” on page 49.

Another form of snuff box is shown at fig. 5 on the same page. This is a small article, and is cut out of solid ivory. Much skill is shown in the external shaping of it, and very great patience must have been shown in scraping and polishing its surface. But this is mere child’s play contrasted with the enormous labors of hollowing it with the very imperfect tools possessed by a Kaffir workman. The common bottle gourd is largely used in the manufacture of snuff boxes. Sometimes it is merely hollowed, and furnished with a plaited leathern thong, whereby it may be secured to the person of the owner. The hollowing process is very simple, and consists of boring a hole in the end as the gourd hangs on the tree, and leaving it to itself. In process of time the whole interior decomposes, and the outer skin is baked by the sun to a degree of hardness nearly equal to that of earthenware. This form of snuff box is much used. As the bottle gourd attains a large size, it is generally employed as a store box, in which snuff is kept in stock, or by a chief of liberal ideas, who likes to hand round a large supply among his followers. In the generality of cases it is ornamented in some way or other. Sometimes the Kaffir decorates the whole exterior with the angular charred pattern which has already been mentioned; but his great delight is to cover it with beads, the ornaments which his soul loves. These beads are most ingeniously attached to the gourd, and fit it as closely as the protective envelope covers a Florence oil flask.

One favorite kind of snuff box is made from the bone of a cow’s leg. The part which is preferred is that just above the fore foot. The foot being removed, the Kaffir measures a piece of the leg some four inches in length, and cuts it off. From the upper part he strips the skin, but takes care to leave a tolerably broad belt of hide at the wider end. The bone is then polished, and is generally decorated with a rudely engraved but moderately regular pattern, somewhat similar to that which has been already described as placed upon the gourd. The natural hollow is much enlarged, and the opening being closed with a stopper, the snuff box is complete.

Sometimes the Kaffir makes his snuff box out of the horn of a young ox; but he will occasionally go to the trouble of cutting it out of the horn of a rhinoceros. Such a box is a valuable one, for the bone of the rhinoceros is solid, and therefore the hollow must be made by sheer labor, whereas that of the ox is already hollow, and only needs to be polished. Moreover, it is not so easy to procure the horn of a rhinoceros as that of an ox, inasmuch as the former is a powerful and dangerous animal, and can only be obtained at the risk of life, or by the laborious plan of digging a pitfall.

There is one form of snuff box which is, as far as I know, peculiar to the tribes of Southern Africa, both in shape and material. The Kaffir begins by making a clay model of some animal, and putting it in the sun to dry. He is very expert at this art, and, as a general rule, can imitate the various animals with such truth that they can be immediately recognized. Of course he has but little delicacy, and does not aim at any artistic effect; but he is thoroughly acquainted with the salient points of the animal which he is modelling, and renders them with a force that frequently passes into rather ludicrous exaggeration.

The next process is a very singular one. When a cow is killed, the Kaffir removes the hide, and lays it on the ground with the hair downward. With the sharp blade of his assagai he then scrapes the interior of the hide, so as to clean off the coagulated blood which adheres to it, and collects it all in one place. With this blood he mixes some powdered earth, and works the blood and the powder into a paste. Of course a small quantity of animal fibre is scraped from the hide and mixed with the paste, and aids to bind it more closely together. The paste being ready, the Kaffir rubs it over the clay model, taking care to lay it on of a uniform thickness. A few minutes in the burning sunshine suffices to harden it tolerably, and then a second coat is added. The Kaffir repeats this process until he has obtained a coating about the twelfth of an inch in thickness. Just before it has become quite hard, he takes his needle or a very finely pointed assagai, and raises a kind of coarse nap on the surface, so as to[162] bear a rude resemblance to hair. When it is quite dry, the Kaffir cuts a round hole in the top of the head, and with his needle aided by sundry implements made of thorns, picks out the whole of the clay model, leaving only the dry coating of paste. By this time the plastic paste has hardened into a peculiar consistency. It is very heavy in proportion to its bulk, partly on account of the earthy matter incorporated with it, and partly on account of its extremely compact nature. It is wonderfully strong, resisting considerable violence without suffering any damage. It is so hard that contact with sharp stones, spear heads, or a knife blade is perfectly innocuous, and so elastic, that if it were dropped from the clouds upon the earth, it would scarcely sustain any injury.

My own specimen represents an elephant, the leathern thong by which the plug is retained being ingeniously contrived to play the part of the proboscis. But the Kaffirs are singularly ingenious in their manufacture of these curious snuff boxes, and imitate the form of almost every animal in their own country. The ox and the elephant are their favorite models: but they will sometimes make a snuff box in the form of a rhinoceros; and the very best specimen that I have as yet seen was in the shape of a hartebeest, the peculiar recurved horns, and shape of the head, being rendered with wonderful truth.

Modelling must naturally imply a mind with some artistic powers; and it is evident that any one who can form in clay a recognizable model of any object, no matter how rude it may be, has within him some modicum of the sculptor’s art. This implies a portion of the draughtsman’s art also, because in the mind of the modeller there must exist a tolerably accurate conception of the various outlines that bound the object which he models. He can also carve very respectably in wood; and, as we have seen—when we came to the question of a Kaffir’s food and how he eats it—he can carve his spoons into very artistic forms, and sometimes to the shape of certain objects, whether artificial or natural. There is now before me an admirably executed model of the head of a buffalo, carved by a Kaffir out of a rhinoceros horn, the peculiar sweep and curve of the buffalo’s enormous horn being given with a truth and freedom that are really wonderful.

Yet it is a most remarkable fact that a Kaffir, as a general rule, is wholly incapable of understanding a drawing that includes perspective. An ordinary outline he can understand well enough, and will recognize a sketch of an animal, a house, or a man, and will sometimes succeed in identifying the individual who is represented. Yet even this amount of artistic recognition is by no means universal; and a Kaffir, on being shown a well-executed portrait of a man, has been known to assert that it was a lion.

But when perspective is included, the Kaffir is wholly at a loss to comprehend it. One of my friends, who was travelling in South Africa, halted at a well-known spot, and while there received a copy of an illustrated newspaper, in which was an engraving of the identical spot. He was delighted at the opportunity, and called the Kaffirs to come and look at the print. Not one of them could form the slightest conception of its meaning, although, by a curious coincidence, a wagon had been represented in exactly the situation which was occupied by that in which they were travelling. In vain did he explain the print. Here was the wagon—there was that clump of trees—there was that flat-topped hill—down in that direction ran that ravine—and so forth. They listened very attentively, and then began to laugh, thinking that he was joking with them. The wagon, which happened to be in the foreground, they recognized, but the landscape they ignored. “That clump of trees,” said they, “is more than a mile distant; how can it be on this flat piece of paper?” To their minds the argument was ended, and there was no room for further discussion.

I have another snuff box, which is remarkable as being a combination of two arts; namely, modelling and bead work. The author of this composition does not seem to have been a man of original genius, or to have possessed any confidence in his power of modelling. Instead of making a clay model of some animal, he has contented himself with imitating a gourd, one of the easiest tasks that a child of four years old could perform. There is nothing to do but to make a ball of clay, for the body of the box, and fix to it a small cylinder of clay for the neck. The maker of this snuff box has been scarcely more successful in the ornamental cover than in the box itself. With great labor he has woven an envelope made of beads, and up to a certain point has been successful. He has evidently possessed beads of several sizes, and has disposed them with some ingenuity. The larger are made into the cover for the neck of the box, a number of the very largest beads being reserved to mark the line where the neck is worked into the body of the bottle. All the beads are strung upon threads made of sinews, and are managed so ingeniously that a kind of close network is formed, which fits almost tightly to the box. But the maker has committed a slight error in his measurements, and the consequence is that, although the cover fits closely over the greater part of the box, it forms several ungainly wrinkles here and there; the maker having forgotten that, owing to the globular shape of the box, the diameter of the bead envelope ought to[163] have been contracted with each row of beads.

The colors of the beads are only three—namely, chalk-white, garnet, and blue; the two latter being translucent. The groundwork is formed of the opaque white beads, while those of the other two colors are disposed in bands running in a slightly spiral direction.

There is now before me a most remarkable snuff box, or “iquaka,” as the Kaffirs call it, which perplexed me exceedingly. The form is that of a South African gourd, and it is furnished with a leathern thong, after the pure African fashion. But the carving with which it is almost entirely covered never was designed by a Kaffir artist. The upper portion is cut so as to resemble the well-known concentric ivory balls which the Chinese cut with such infinite labor, and a similar pattern decorates the base. But the body of the gourd is covered with outline carvings, one of which represents a peacock, a bird which does not belong to Kaffirland, and the rest of which are very fair representations of the rose, thistle, and shamrock. The peacock is really well drawn, the contrast between the close plumage of the body and the loose, discomposed feathers of the train being very boldly marked; while the attitude of the bird, as it stands on a branch, with reverted head, is very natural. (See page 167.) Major Ross King, to whose collection it belongs, tells me that if he had not seen it taken from the body of a slain warrior, he could hardly have believed that it came from Southern Africa. He thinks that it must have been carved by a partially civilized Hottentot, or Kaffir of exceptional intelligence, and that the design must have been copied from some English models, or have been furnished by an Englishman to the Kaffir, who afterward transferred it to the gourd.

The same gentleman has also forwarded to me another gourd of the same shape, but of much larger size, which has been used for holding amasi, or clotted milk. This specimen is chiefly remarkable from the fact that an accident has befallen it, and a hole made in its side. The owner has evidently valued the gourd, and has ingeniously filled up the hole with a patch of raw hide. The stitch much resembles that which has already been described when treating of Kaffir costume. A row of small holes has been drilled through the fracture, and by means of a sinew thread the patch has been fastened over the hole. The piece of hide is rather larger than the hole which it covers, and as it has been put on when wet, the junction has become quite water-tight, and the patch is almost incorporated with the gourd.

The gourd is prepared in the very simple manner that is in use among the Kaffirs—namely, by cutting off a small portion of the neck, so as to allow the air to enter, and thus to cause the whole of the soft substance of the interior to decay. The severed portion of the neck is carefully preserved, and the stopper is fixed to it in such a manner that when the gourd is closed it seems at first sight to be entire. These gourds are never washed, but fresh milk is continually added, in order that it may be converted into amasi by that which is left in the vessel.

Next to his snuffbox, the Kaffir values his pipe. There is quite as much variety in pipes in Kaffirland as there is in Europe, and, if possible, the material is even more varied. Reed, wood, stone, horn, and bone are the principal materials, and the reader will see that from them a considerable variety can be formed. The commonest pipes are made out of wood, and are formed on the same principle as the well-known wooden pipes of Europe. But the Kaffir has no lathe in which he can turn the bowl smooth on the exterior, and gouge out the wood to make its cavity. Neither has he the drills with which the European maker pierces the stem, nor the dedicate tools which give it so neat a finish. He has scarcely any tools but his assagai and his needle, and yet with these rude implements he succeeds in making a very serviceable, though not a very artistic pipe.

One of the principal points in pipe making, among the Kaffirs, is, to be liberal as regards the size of the bowl. The smallest Kaffir pipe is nearly three times as large as the ordinary pipe of Europe, and is rather larger than the great porcelain pipes so prevalent in Germany. But the tobacco used by the Germans is very mild, and is employed more for its delicate flavor than its potency; whereas the tobacco which a Kaffir uses is rough, coarse, rank, and extremely strong. Some of the pipes used by these tribes are so large that a casual observer might easily take them for ladles, and they are so heavy and unwieldy, especially toward the bowl, that on an emergency a smoker might very effectually use his pipe as a club, and beat off either a wild beast or a human foe with the improvised weapon.

Generally, the bowl is merely hollowed, and then used as soon as the wood is dry; but in some cases the dusky manufacturer improves his pipe, or at least thinks that he does so, by lining it with a very thin plate of sheet iron. Sometimes, though rather rarely, a peculiar kind of stone is used for the manufacture of pipes. This stone is of a green color, with a wavy kind of pattern, not unlike that of malachite. Many of the natives set great store by this stone, and have almost superstitious ideas of its value and properties.

The Kaffir possesses to the full the love of his own especial pipe, which seems to distinguish[164] every smoker, no matter what his country may be. The Turk has a plain earthen bowl, but incrusts the stem with jewels, and forms the mouthpiece of the purest amber. The German forms the bowl of the finest porcelain, and adorns it with his own coat of arms, or with the portrait of some bosom friend, while the stem is decorated with silken cords and tassels of brilliant and symbolical colors. Even the Englishman, plain and simple as are the tastes on which he values himself, takes a special pride in a good meerschaum, and decorates his favorite pipe with gold mounting and amber mouthpiece. Some persons of simple taste prefer the plain wooden or clay pipe to the costliest specimen that art can furnish; but others pride themselves either upon the costly materials with which the pipe is made, or the quantity of gold and silver wherewith it is decorated. Others, again, seem to prefer forms as grotesque and fantastic as any that are designed by the Western African negro, as is shown by the variety of strangely-shaped pipes exhibited in the tobacconists’ windows, which would not be so abundantly produced if they did not meet with a correspondingly large sale.

The North American Indian lavishes all his artistic powers upon his pipe. As a warrior, upon a campaign he contents himself with a pipe “contrived a double debt to pay,” his tomahawk being so fashioned that the pipe bowl is sunk in the head, while the handle of the weapon is hollowed, and becomes the stem. But, as a man of peace, he expends his wealth, his artistic powers, and his time upon his pipe. He takes a journey to the far distant spot in which the sacred redstone is quarried. He utters invocations to the Great Spirit; gives offerings, and humbly asks permission to take some of the venerated stone. He returns home with his treasure, carves the bowl with infinite pains, makes a most elaborate stem, and decorates it with the wampum and feathers which are the jewelry of a savage Indian. The inhabitant of Vancouver’s Island shapes an entire pipe, bowl and stem included, out of solid stone, covering it with an infinity of grotesque images that must take nearly a lifetime of labor. The native of India forms the water-pipe, or “hubble-bubble,” out of a cocoa-nut shell and a piece of bamboo and a clay bowl; and as long as he is a mere laborer, living on nothing but rice, he contents himself with this simple arrangement. But, in proportion as he becomes rich, he indicates his increasing wealth by the appearance of his pipe; so that when he has attained affluence, the cocoa-nut shell is incased in gold and silver filagree, while the stem and mouthpiece are covered with gems and the precious metals.

It is likely, therefore, that the Kaffir will expend both time and labor upon the decoration of his pipe. Of artistic beauty he has very little idea, and is unable to give to his pipe the flowing curves which are found in the handiwork of the American Indian, or to produce the rude yet vigorous designs which ornament the pipe of New Caledonia. The form of the Kaffir’s pipe seldom varies, and the whole energies of the owner seem to be concentrated on inlaying the bowl with lead. The patterns which he produces are not remarkable either for beauty or variety, and, indeed, are little more than repetitions of the zig-zag engravings upon the snuff boxes.

There is now before me a pipe which has evidently belonged to a Kaffir who was a skilful smith, and on which the owner has expended all his metallurgic knowledge. The entire stem and the base of the bowl are made of lead, and the edge of the bowl is furnished with a rim of the same metal. The pattern which is engraved upon it is composed of lead, and it is a remarkable fact that the lead is not merely let into the wood, but that the bowl of the pipe is cut completely through, so that the pattern is seen in the inside as well as on the exterior. The pipe has never been smoked, and the pattern seems to be unfinished. The skill which has been employed in making this pipe is very great, for it must require no small amount of proficiency both in wood carving and metal working, to combine the two materials together so perfectly as to be air-tight.

The hookah, or at least a modification of this curious pipe, is in great use among the Kaffir tribes, and is quite as ingenious a piece of art as the “hubble-bubble” of the Indian peasant. It is made of three distinct parts. First, there is the bowl, which is generally carved out of stone, and is often ornamented with a deeply engraved pattern. The commonest bowls, however, are made from earthenware, and are very similar in shape to that of the Indian pipe. Their form very much resembles that of a barrel, one end having a large and the other a small aperture.

The next article is a reed some four or five inches in length, which is fitted tightly into the smaller aperture of the bowl; the last, and most important part, is the body of the pipe, which is always made of the horn of some animal, that of the ox being most usually found. The favorite horn, however, and that which is most costly, is that of the koodoo, the magnificent spiral-horned antelope of Southern Africa. A hole is bored into the horn at some little distance from the point, and the reed, which has been already attached to the bowl, is thrust into it, the junction of the reed and horn, being made air-tight. (See illustration No. 4, page 155.)

The bowl is now filled with tobacco, or with another mixture that will be described,[165] and the horn nearly filled with water. In order to smoke this pipe, the native places his mouth to the broad, open end of the horn, presses the edge of the opening to his cheeks, so as to exclude the air, and then inhales vigorously. The smoke is thus obliged to pass through the water, and is partially freed from impurities before it reaches the lips of the smoker. During its passage through the water, it causes a loud bubbling sound, which is thought to aid the enjoyment of the smoker. Pure tobacco is, however, seldom smoked in this pipe, and, especially among the Damara tribe, an exceedingly potent mixture is employed. Tobacco is used for the purpose of giving the accustomed flavor, but the chief ingredient is a kind of hemp, called “dagha,” which possesses intoxicating powers like those of the well-known Indian hemp. Smoking this hemp is exalted into an important ceremony among this people, and is conducted in the following manner:—

A number of intending smokers assemble together and sit in a circle, having only a single water pipe, together with a supply of the needful tobacco and the prepared hemp, called “dagha” by the natives. The first in rank fills the pipe, lights it, and inhales as much smoke as his lungs can contain, not permitting any of it to escape. He then hands the pipe to the man nearest him, and closes his mouth to prevent the smoke from escaping. The result of this proceeding is not long in manifesting itself. Convulsions agitate the body, froth issues from the mouth, the eyes seem to start from the head, while their brilliancy dies away, and is replaced by a dull, film-like aspect, and the features are contorted like those of a person attacked with epilepsy.

This stage of excitement is so powerful that the human frame cannot endure it for any length of time, and in a minute or two the smoker is lying insensible on the ground. As it would be dangerous to allow a man to remain in this state of insensibility, he is roused by his still sober comrades, who employ means, not the most gentle, to bring him to his senses. They pull his woolly hair, they box his ears, and they throw water over him, not in the most delicate manner, and thus awake him from his lethargy. There are, however, instances where these remedial means have failed, and the senseless smoker has never opened his eyes again in this world. Whence the gratification arises is hard to say, and the very fact that there should be any gratification at all is quite inexplicable to an European. These dusky smokers, however, regard the pipe as supplying one of the greatest luxuries of life, and will sacrifice almost everything to possess it.

Although the Damara tribe are special victims to this peculiar mode of smoking, it is practised to some extent by the Kaffirs. These, however, are not such slaves to the pipe as the Damaras, neither do they employ the intoxicating hemp to such an extent, but use tobacco. Their water pipes are mostly made of an ox horn. They sometimes fasten the bowl permanently in its place by means of a broad strap of antelope hide, one part of which goes round the bowl, and the other round the stem, so as to brace them firmly together by its contraction. The hair of the antelope is allowed to remain on the skin, and, as the dark artist has a natural eye for color, he always chooses some part of the skin where a tolerably strong contrast of hue exists.

There is a very singular kind of pipe which seems to be in use over a considerable portion of Southern Africa. The native of this country is never at a loss for a pipe, and if he does not happen to possess one of the pipes in ordinary use, he can make one in a few minutes, wherever he may be. For this purpose he needs no tools, and requires no wood, stone, or other material of which pipes are generally made. There is a certain grandeur about his notion of a pipe, for he converts the earth into that article, and the world itself becomes his tobacco pipe.

The method of making this pipe is perfectly simple. First, he pours some water on the ground, and makes a kind of mud pie. The precise manner in which this pie is made is depicted in Hogarth’s well-known plate of the “Enraged Musician.” He now lays an assagai or a knob-kerrie on the ground, and kneads the mud over the end of the shaft so as to form a ridge some few inches in length, having a rather large lump of mud at the end. This mud ridge is the element of the future pipe. The next proceeding is to push the finger into the lump of mud until it reaches the spear shaft, and then to work it about until a cavity is made, which answers the purpose of the bowl. The assagai is then carefully withdrawn, and the pipe is complete, the perforated mud ridge doing duty for the stem. A few minutes in the burning sunbeams suffices to bake the mud into a hard mass, and the pipe is ready for use. The ingenious manufacturer then fills the bowl with tobacco and proceeds to smoke. This enjoyment he manages to secure by lying on his face, putting his lips upon the small orifice, and at the same time applying a light to the tobacco in the bowl.

In some places the pipe is made in a slightly different manner. A shallow hole is scooped in the ground, some ten or twelve inches in diameter, and two or three deep, and the earth that has been removed is then replaced in the hole, moistened and kneaded into a compact mud. A green twig is then taken, bent in the form of a half circle, and the middle of it pressed into the hole, leaving the ends projecting at either side. Just before the mud has quite hardened, the twig[166] is carefully withdrawn, and at the same time the bowl is made by pushing the finger after the twig and widening the hole. In such case the pipe is of such a nature that an European could not smoke it, even if he could overcome the feeling of repugnance in using it. His projecting nose would be in the way, and his small thin lips could not take a proper hold. But the broad nose, and large, projecting lips of the South African native are admirably adapted for the purpose, and enable him to perform with ease a task which would be physically impracticable to the European. (See engraving No. 3, on opposite page.)

It is a remarkable fact that in some parts of Asia the natives construct a pipe on the same principle. This pipe will be described in its proper place.

When the Kaffirs can assemble for a quiet smoke, they have another curious custom. The strong, rank tobacco excites a copious flow of saliva, and this is disposed of in a rather strange manner. The smokers are furnished with a tube about a yard in length, and generally a reed, or straight branch, from which the pith has been extracted. A peculiarly handsome specimen is usually covered with the skin of a bullock’s tail. Through this tube the smokers in turn discharge the superabundant moisture, and it is thought to be a delicate compliment to select the same spot that has been previously used by another. Sometimes, instead of a hole, a circular trench is employed, but the mode of using it is exactly the same.

The illustration No. 4, same page, represents a couple of well-bred gentlemen—a married man and a “boy”—indulging in a pipe in the cool of the evening. The man has taken his turn at the pipe, and handed it to his comrade, who inhales the smoke while he himself is engaged with the tube above-mentioned. Wishing to give some little variety to the occupation, he has drawn an outlined figure of a kraal, and is just going to form one of the huts. Presently, the boy will hand the pipe back again, exchange it for the tube, and take his turn at the manufacture of the kraal, which will be completed by the time that the pipe is finished.

Major Ross King describes this curious proceeding in a very amusing manner. “Retaining the last draught of smoke in his mouth, which he fills with a decoction of bark and water from a calabash, he squirts it on the ground by his side, through a long ornamented tube, performing thereon, by the aid of a reserved portion of the liquid, a sort of boatswain’s whistle, complacently regarding the soap-like bubbles, the joint production of himself and neighbor.

“On this occasion, finding a blanketed group sitting apart in a circle, smoking the dagha before described, at their invitation I squatted down cross-legged in the ring, and receiving the rude cow-horn pipe in my turn, took a pull at its capacious mouth, coughing violently at the suffocating fumes, as indeed they all did more or less, and after tasting the nasty decoction of bark which followed round in a calabash, took the politely offered spitting-tube of my next neighbor, signally failing, however, in the orthodox whistle, to the unbounded delight of the Fingoes, whose hearty, ringing laughter was most contagious.”

Tobacco is cultivated by several of the tribes inhabiting Southern Africa, and is prepared in nearly the same method as is employed in other parts of the world, the leaves being gathered, “sweated,” and finally dried. Still, they appreciate the tobacco which they obtain from Europeans, and prefer it to that which is manufactured by themselves.

Some of the Kaffirs are very successful in their cultivation of tobacco, and find that a good crop is a very valuable property. A Kaffir without tobacco is a miserable being, and, if it were only for his own sake, the possession of a supply which will last him throughout the year is a subject of congratulation. But any tobacco that is not needed for the use of himself or his household is as good as money to the owner, as there are few things which a Kaffir loves that tobacco cannot buy. If he sees a set of beads that particularly pleases him, and the owner should happen to be poorer than himself, he can purchase the finery by the sacrifice of a little of his fragrant store. Also, he can gain the respect of the “boys,” who seldom possess property of any kind except their shield and spears, and, by judicious gifts of tobacco, can often make them his followers, this being the first step toward chieftainship. Generally, a Kaffir makes up the crop of each garden into a single bundle, sometimes weighing fifty or sixty pounds, and carefully incases it with reeds, much after the fashion that naval tobacco is sewed up in canvas. He is sure to place these rolls in a conspicuous part of the house, in order to extort the envy and admiration of his companions.


(See page 198.)

(See page 163.)

(See page 166.)

(See page 166.)




It is not very easy to say whether a Kaffir possesses any religion at all, in our sense of the word. With superstition he is deeply imbued, and passes his lifetime in considerable dread of witchcraft and of evil spirits. But religion which conveys any sense of moral responsibility, seems to be incomprehensible to the ordinary Kaffir, and even his naturally logical mind inclines him to practical atheism. As far as is known, the Kaffir tribes have a sort of tradition concerning a Creator, whom they call by a compound word that may be translated as the Great-Great, and to whom they attribute the first origin of all things. But it is certain they offer him no worship, and make no prayers to him, and have no idea that they are personally responsible to him for their acts. Moreover many of the tribes do not even possess this imperfect knowledge; and even in those cases where it does exist, its origin is very uncertain, and it is impossible to ascertain whether the tradition may not be a corrupted recollection of instruction received from some European. Such, indeed, has been known to be the case among the Kaffirs, and it is probable that the knowledge of a Creator is really derived from European sources. At all events, such knowledge is by no means universal, and exercises such small influence on the people that it is scarcely worthy of mention.

There are, indeed, one or two legendary stories concerning the Great-Great, relating to the creation of man, and to the duration of human life. The man is supposed to have been created by splitting a reed, from which the first parents of the human race proceeded. This legend is probably due to a double meaning of the word signifying “origin” and “create,” which also signify “reed” and “splitting.” Another form of the tradition deprives the Great-Great of all creatorship, and makes him to be one of the two who issued from the split reed, so that he is rather the great ancestor of the human race than its creator.

The tradition concerning the affliction of death upon the human race is a very curious one, and was related to the missionaries by a native who had been converted to Christianity.

When mankind had increased upon the earth, the Great-Great took counsel with himself, and sent two messengers to them, one the giver of life, the other the herald of death. The first messenger was the chameleon, who was ordered to go and utter the proclamation, “Let not the people die!” The chameleon set off on its mission, but lingered on the road, stopping occasionally to eat by the way, and walking leisurely instead of running. The second messenger was the salamander, who was commanded to proclaim, “Let the people die!” But the latter was the more obedient, and ran the[170] whole of the journey, until he reached the habitation of men, when he proclaimed his message of death. Shortly afterward, the chameleon arrived and delivered his message, when the salamander beat him and drove him away, as having failed in his duty to his Master. Then the people lamented because they had received the message of death before that of life, and from that time men have been subject to the power of death. The consequence is, that both animals are detested by the Kaffirs, who kill the chameleon when they find it, because it lingered on the way, and lost them the gift of immortality. And they are equally sure to kill the salamander, because, when it was charged with such a dread message, it hastened on its journey, and anticipated the chameleon in its message of life. There are many variations of this story, but in its main points it is current throughout many parts of Southern Africa.

Although the Kaffir’s ideas of the Creator are so vague and undefined, he has at all events a very firm belief in the existence of the soul and its immortality after death. Tchaka once made use of this belief in a very ingenious manner. The people had become rather tired of war, and required some inducement to make them welcome the order for battle as heretofore. Whereupon, Tchaka had a vision of Umbia, a well-known chief, who had served under his father, and who appeared to Tchaka to tell him that his father was becoming angry with the Zulu tribe because they had become lazy, and had not gone to war against the remaining unconquered tribes. This laziness on the part of the Zulus who still inhabited the earth was displeasing to the spirits of the dead, who would be very comfortable below ground with a plenty of wives and cattle, as soon as they saw their tribe in supreme authority over the whole land, from the Draakensberg to the sea.

In honor of this messenger from the shades, Tchaka ordered numbers of cattle to be slaughtered in all his military kraals, gave sumptuous feasts, and raised the descendants of Umbia to the rank of Indunas. Of course, the name of Umbia was in all mouths, and, while the excitement was at its height, an old man suddenly disappeared from his hut, having been dragged away, according to his wife’s account, by a lion. The affair was reported to Tchaka in council, but he affected to take no notice of it. After the lapse of three months, when the immediate excitement had died away, the old man reappeared before Tchaka with his head-ring torn off, and clothed in a wild and fantastic manner.

He said that the lion had dragged him away to its den, when the earth suddenly opened and swallowed them both up. The lion accompanied him without doing him any harm, and brought him to a place where there was some red earth. This also gave way, and he fell into another abyss, where he lay stunned by the fall. On recovering, he found himself in a pleasant country, and discovered that it was inhabited by the spirits of Zulus who had died, and whom he had known in life. There was Senzangakona, the father of Tchaka, with his councillors, his chiefs, his soldiers, his wives, and his cattle. Umbia was also there, and enjoyed himself very much. Since his departure into the shades, he had become a great doctor, and was accustomed to stroll about at night, instead of staying at home quietly with his family. No one seemed to know where he had gone, but he told the narrator that he used to revisit earth in order to see his friends and relatives. For three months the narrator was kept in the shades below, and was then told to go back to his tribe and narrate what he had seen.

Tchaka pretended to disbelieve the narrative, and publicly treated with contempt the man, denouncing him as a liar, and sending for prophets who should “smell” him, and discover whether he had told the truth. The seers arrived, performed their conjurations, “smelt” the man, and stated that he had told the truth, that he had really visited the spirits of the dead, and that he had been fetched by the lion because the people did not believe the vision that had appeared to Tchaka. It is needless to observe that the whole business had been previously arranged by that wily chief, in order to carry out his ambitious purposes.

Unbounded as is in one respect their reverence for the spirits of their ancestors, they attribute to those same spirits a very limited range of power. A Kaffir has the very highest respect for the spirits of his own ancestors, or those of his chief, but pays not the least regard to those which belong to other families. The spirit of a departed Kaffir is supposed to have no sympathy except with relations and immediate descendants.

It has been already mentioned that, after the death of a Kaffir, his spirit is supposed to dwell in the shade below, and to have the power of influencing the survivors of his own family, whether for good or evil. He likes cattle to be sacrificed to his name, because, in that case, he adds the spirits of the dead cattle to his herd below, while his friends above eat the flesh, so that both parties are well pleased. Sometimes, if he thinks that he has been neglected by them, he visits his displeasure by afflicting them with various diseases, from which they seldom expect to recover without the sacrifice of cattle. If the ailment is comparatively trifling, the sacrifice of a goat is deemed sufficient; but if the malady be serious, nothing but an ox, or in some cases several oxen, are required before the offended spirits will relent. Sheep seem never to be used for this purpose.


If the reader will refer to page 78, he will see that the sacrifice of cattle in case of sickness forms part of a guardian’s duty toward a young girl, and that, if her temporary guardian should have complied with this custom, her relatives, should they he discovered, are bound to refund such cattle.

That the spirits of the dead are allowed to quit their shadowy home below and to revisit their friends has already been mentioned. In some instances, as in the case of Umbia, they are supposed to present themselves in their own form. But the usual plan is, for them to adopt the shape of some animal which is not in the habit of entering human dwellings, and so to appear under a borrowed form. The serpent or the lizard shape is supposed to be the favorite mark under which the spirit conceals its identity, and the man whose house it enters is left to exercise his ingenuity in guessing the particular spirit that may be enshrined in the strange animal. In order to ascertain precisely the character of the visitor, he lays a stick gently on its back; and if it shows no sign of anger, he is quite sure that he is favored with the presence of one of his dead ancestors. There are few Kaffirs that will make such a discovery, and will not offer a sacrifice at once, for the prevalent idea in their mind is, that an ancestor would not have taken the trouble to come on earth, except to give a warning that, unless he were treated with more respect, some evil consequence would follow. In consequence of this belief, most of the Kaffirs have a great dislike to killing serpents and lizards, not knowing whether they may not be acting rudely toward some dead ancestor who will avenge himself upon them for their want of respect.

Should a cow or a calf enter a hut, the Kaffir would take no notice of it, as these animals are in the habit of entering human dwellings; but if a sheep were to do so, he would immediately fancy that it was inspired with the shade of one of his ancestors. The same would be the case with a wild animal of any kind, unless it were a beast of prey, in which case it might possibly have made its way into the hut in search of food. A similar exception would be made with regard to antelopes and other animals which had been hunted, and had rushed into the kraal or crept into the hut as a refuge from their foes.

Sacrifices are often made, not only to remove existing evils, but to avert impending danger. In battle, for example, a soldier who finds that the enemy are getting the upper hand, will make a vow to his ancestors that if he comes safely out of the fight, he will make a sacrifice to them, and this vow is always kept. Even if the soldier should be a “boy,” who has no cattle, his father or nearest relation would think himself bound to fulfil the vow. Now and then, if he should find that the danger was not so great as was anticipated, he will compromise the matter by offering a goat. Unless a sacrifice of some kind were made, the vengeance of the offended spirits would be terrible, and no Kaffir would willingly run such a risk.

Sacrifices are also offered for the purpose of obtaining certain favors. For example, as has been already mentioned, when an army starts on an expedition, sacrifices are made to the spirits, and a similar rite is performed when a new kraal is built, or a new field laid out. Relatives at home will offer sacrifices in behalf of their absent friends; and when a chief is away from home in command of a war expedition, the sacrifices for his welfare occur almost daily. Sacrifices or thank-offerings ought also to be made when the spirits have been propitious; and if the army is victorious, or the chief returned in health, it is thought right to add another sacrifice to the former, in token of acknowledgment that the previous offering has not been in vain.

The Kaffir generally reserves the largest and finest ox in his herd for sacrifice under very important circumstances, and this animal, which is distinguished by the name of “Ox of the Spirits,” is never sold except on pressing emergency. Mr. Shooter, who has given great attention to the moral culture of the Kaffir tribes, remarks with much truth, that the Kaffir’s idea of a sacrifice is simply a present of food to the spirit. For the same reason, when an ox is solemnly sacrificed, the prophet in attendance calls upon the spirits to come and eat, and adds to the inducement by placing baskets of beer and vessels of snuff by the side of the slaughtered animal. Indeed, when a man is very poor, and has no cattle to sacrifice, he contents himself with these latter offerings.

The account of one of these sacrifices has been translated by Mr. Grout, from the words of a native. After mentioning a great variety of preliminary rites, he proceeds to say, “Now some one person goes out, and when he has come abroad, without the kraal, all who are within their houses keep silence, while he goes round the kraal, the outer enclosure of the kraal, and says, ‘Honor to thee, lord!’ (inkosi.) Offering prayers to the shades, he continues, ‘A blessing, let a blessing come then, since you have really demanded your cow; let sickness depart utterly. Thus we offer your animal.’

“And on our part we say, ‘Let the sick man come out, come forth, be no longer sick, and slaughter your animal then, since we have now consented that he may have it for his own use. Glory to thee, lord; good news; come then, let us see him going about like other people. Now then, we have given you what you want; let us therefore see whether or not it was enjoined in order that[172] he might recover, and that the sickness might pass by.’

“And then, coming out, spear in hand, he enters the cattle fold, comes up and stabs it. The cow cries, says yeh! to which he replies, ‘An animal for the gods ought to show signs of distress’; it is all right then, just what you required. Then they skin it, eat it, finish it.” Sometimes the gall is eaten by the sacrificer, and sometimes it is rubbed over the body.

Another kind of sacrifice is that which is made by the principal man of a kraal, or even by the king himself, about the first of January, the time when the pods of the maize are green, and are in a fit state for food. No Kaffir will venture to eat the produce of the new year until after the festival, which may be called the Feast of First-fruits. The feast lasts for several days, and in order to celebrate it, the whole army assembles, together with the young recruits who have not yet been entrusted with shields. The prophets also assemble in great force, their business being to invent certain modes of preparing food, which will render the body of the consumer strong throughout the year. At this festival, also, the veteran soldiers who have earned their discharge are formally released from service, while the recruits are drafted into the ranks.

The first business is, the sacrifice of the bull. For this purpose a bull is given to the warriors, who are obliged to catch it and strangle it with their naked hands. They are not even allowed a rope with which to bind the animal, and the natural consequence is, that no small amount of torture is inflicted upon the poor animal, while the warriors are placed in considerable jeopardy of their lives. When the bull is dead, the chief prophet opens it, and removes the gall, which he mixes with other medicines and gives to the king and his councillors. The dose thus prepared is always as unsavory a mixture as can well be conceived, but the Kaffir palate is not very delicate, and suffers little under the infliction. The body of the bull is next handed over to the “boys,” who eat as much as they can, and are obliged to burn the remainder. As a general rule, there is very little to be burned. The men do not eat the flesh of this animal, but they feast to their heart’s content on other cattle, which are slaughtered in the usual manner. Dancing, drinking, and taking snuff now set in, and continue in full force for several days, until not even Kaffir energy can endure more exertion.

Then comes the part of the king. The subjects form themselves into a vast ring, into which the king, dressed in all the bravery of his dancing apparel, enters with a bound, amid shouts of welcome from the people. He proceeds to indulge in one of the furious dances which the Kaffirs love, springing high into the air, flourishing his stick of office, and singing songs in his own praises, until he can dance and sing no longer. Generally, this dance is not of very long duration, as the king is almost invariably a fat and unwieldy man, and cannot endure a prolonged exertion. The crowning incident of the feast now takes place. The king stands in the midst of his people—Dingan always stood on a small mound of earth—takes a young and green calabash in his hands, and dashes it upon the ground, so as to break it in pieces; by this act declaring the harvest begun, and the people at liberty to eat of the fruits of the new year. A very similar ceremony takes place among the tribes of American Indians, the consequence of which is frequently that the people abuse the newly granted permission, and in a few days consume all the maize that ought to have served them for the cold months of winter.

The Kaffir has a strong belief in omens; though perhaps not stronger than similar credulity in some parts of our own land. He is always on the look-out for omens, and has as keen an eye for them and their meaning as an ancient augur. Anything that happens out of the ordinary course of events is an omen, either for good or evil, and the natural constitution of a Kaffir’s mind always inclines him to the latter feeling. As in the ancient days, the modern Kaffir finds most of his omens in the actions of animals. One of the worst of omens is the bleating of a sheep as it is being slaughtered. Some years ago this omen occurred in the kraal belonging to one of Panda’s “indunas,” or councillors. A prophet was immediately summoned, and a number of sacrifices offered to avert the evil omen. Panda himself was so uneasy that he added an ox to the sacrifices, and afterward came to the conclusion that a man whose kraal could be visited by such an infliction could not be fit to live. He accordingly sent a party of soldiers to kill the induna, but the man, knowing the character of his chief, took the alarm in time, and escaped into British territory in Natal.

If a goat were to leap on a hut, nothing would be thought of it; but if a dog or a sheep were to do so, it would be an omen. It is rather remarkable that among the North American tribes the roofs of houses form the usual resting-place of the dogs which swarm in every village. If a cow were to eat grain that had been spilled on the ground, it would be no omen; but if she were to push off the cover of a vessel containing grain, and eat the contents, the act would be considered ominous.

Mention has been made once or twice of the prophets, sometimes, but erroneously, called witch doctors. These personages play a most important part in the religious system of the Kaffir tribes; and although their office varies slightly in detail, according to the locality to which they belong, their general characteristics are the same throughout the country. Their chief offices are, communicating with the spirits of the departed, and ascertaining their wishes; discovering the perpetrators of crimes; reversing spells thrown by witchcraft; and lastly, and most important, rain-making.


(See pages 175, 176.)

(See Page 175.)


The office of prophet cannot be assumed by any one who may be ambitious of such a distinction, but is hedged about with many rites and ceremonies. In the first place, it is not every one who is entitled even to become a candidate for the office, which is partly hereditary. A prophet must be descended from a prophet, though he need not be a prophet’s son. Indeed, as a general rule, the sons of prophets do not attain the office which their fathers held, the supernatural afflatus generally passing over one generation, and sometimes two. In the next place, a very long and arduous preparation is made for the office, and the candidate, if he passes successfully through it, is solemnly admitted into the order by a council of seers, who meet for the purpose.

When first the spirit of prophecy manifests itself to a Kaffir, he begins by losing all his interest in the events of every-day life. He becomes depressed in mind; prefers solitude to company; often has fainting fits; and, what is most extraordinary of all, loses his appetite. He is visited by dreams of an extraordinary character, mainly relating to serpents, lions, hyænas, leopards, and other wild beasts. Day by day he becomes more and more possessed, until the perturbations of the spirit manifest themselves openly. In this stage of his novitiate, the future prophet utters terrible yells, leaps here and there with astonishing vigor, and runs about at full speed, leaping and shrieking all the time. When thus excited he will dart into the bush, catch snakes (which an ordinary Kaffir will not touch), tie them round his neck, boldly fling himself into the water, and perform all kinds of insane feats.

This early stage of a prophet’s life is called by the Kaffirs Twasa, a word which signifies the change of the old moon to the new, and the change of winter to spring in the beginning of the year. During its progress, the head of his house is supposed to feel great pride in the fact that a prophet is to be numbered among the family, and to offer sacrifices for the success of the novice. When the preliminary stage is over, the future prophet goes to some old and respected seer, gives him a goat as a fee, and remains under his charge until he has completed the necessary course of instruction. He then assumes the dress and character of a prophet, and if he succeeds in his office he will rise to unbounded power among his tribe. But should his first essay be unsuccessful, he is universally contemned as one whom the spirits of the departed think to be unworthy of their confidence.

Mr. Shooter gives a very graphic account of the preparation of a prophet, who was father to one of his own servants. The reader will not fail to notice that the man in question was entitled by birth to assume the prophet’s office.

“Some of the particulars may be peculiar to his tribe, and some due to the caprice of the individual. A married man (whose mother was the daughter of a prophet) had manifested the symptoms of inspiration when a youth; but his father, not willing to slaughter his cattle as custom would have required, employed a seer of reputation to check the growing ‘change.’ The dispossession was not, however, permanent; and when the youth became a man, the inspiration returned. He professed to have constantly recurring dreams about lions, leopards, elephants, boa-constrictors, and all manner of wild beasts; he dreamed about the Zulu country, and (strangest thing of all) that he had a vehement desire to return to it.

“After a while he became very sick; his wives, thinking he was dying, poured cold water over his prostrate person; and the chief, whose induna he was, sent a messenger to a prophet. The latter declared that the man was becoming inspired, and directed the chief to supply an ox for sacrifice. This was disagreeable, but that personage did not dare to refuse, and the animal was sent; he contrived however to delay the sacrifice, and prudently ordered that, if the patient died in the mean time, the ox should be returned. Having begun to recover his strength, our growing prophet cried and raved like a delirious being, suffering no one to enter his hut, except two of his younger children—a girl and a boy. Many of the tribe came to see him, but he did not permit them to approach his person, and impatiently motioned them away. In a few days he rushed out of his hut, tore away through the fence, ran like a maniac across the grass, and disappeared in the bush. The two children went after him; and the boy (his sister having tired) eventually discovered him on the sea-shore. Before the child could approach, the real or affected madman disappeared again, and was seen no more for two or three days. He then returned home, a strange and frightful spectacle: sickness and fasting had reduced him almost to a skeleton; his eyes glared and stood out from his shrunken face; the ring had been torn from his head, which he had covered with long shaggy grass, while, to complete the hideous picture, a living serpent was twisted round his neck. Having entered the kraal, where his wives were in tears, and all the inmates in sorrow, he[176] saluted them with a wild howl to this effect: ‘People call me mad, I know they say I am mad; that is nothing; the spirits are influencing me—the spirits of Majolo, of Unhlovu, and of my father.’ (See the illustrations on page 173.)

“After this a sort of dance took place, in which he sung or chanted, ‘I thought I was dreaming while I was asleep, but, to my surprise, I was not asleep.’ The women (previously instructed) broke forth into a shrill chorus, referring to his departure from home, his visit to the sea, and his wandering from river to river; while the men did their part by singing two or three unmeaning syllables. The dance and the accompanying chants were several times repeated, the chief actor conducting himself consistently with his previous behavior.

“His dreams continued, and the people were told that he had seen a boa-constrictor in a vision, and could point out the spot where it was to be found. They accompanied him; and, when he had indicated the place, they dug, and discovered two of the reptiles. He endeavored to seize one, but the people held him back, and his son struck the animal with sufficient force to disable but not to kill it. He was then allowed to take the serpent, which he placed round his neck, and the party returned home. Subsequently having (as he alleged) dreamed about a leopard, the people accompanied him, and found it. The beast was slain, and carried in triumph to the kraal.

“When our growing prophet returned home after his absence at the sea, he began to slaughter his cattle, according to custom and continued doing so at intervals until the whole were consumed. Some of them were offered in sacrifice. As the general rule, when there is beef at a kraal the neighbors assemble to eat it; but, when an embryo-seer slays his cattle, those who wish to eat must previously give him something. If however the chief were to give him a cow, the people of the tribe would be free to go. In this case the chief had not done so, and the visitors were obliged to buy their entertainment, one man giving a knife, another a shilling. An individual, who was unable or unwilling to pay, having ventured to present himself with empty hands, our neophyte was exceedingly wroth, and, seizing a stick, gave the intruder a significant hint, which the latter was not slow to comprehend. During the consumption of his cattle, the neophyte disappeared again for two days. When it was finished he went to a prophet, with whom he resided two moons—his children taking him food; and afterward, to receive further instruction, visited another seer. He was then considered qualified to practise.”

The reader may remember that the novitiate prophet occasionally flings himself into water. He chooses the clearest and deepest pool that he can find, and the object of doing so is to try whether any of the spirits will reveal themselves to him at the bottom of the water, though they would not do so on dry land. In the foregoing story of a prophet’s preparation, the narrator does not touch upon the space that intervenes between the novitiate and the admission into the prophetic order. This omission can be supplied by an account given to Mr. Grout, by a native who was a firm believer in the supernatural powers of the prophets.

The state of “change” lasts for a long time, and is generally terminated at the beginning of the new year. He then rubs himself all over with white clay, bedecks himself with living snakes, and goes to a council of seers. They take him to the water—the sea, if they should be within reach of the coast—throw him into the water, and there leave him. He again goes off into solitude, and, when he returns, he is accompanied by the people of his kraal, bringing oxen and goats for sacrifice. He does not sacrifice sheep, because they are silent when killed, whereas an ox lows, and a goat bleats, and it is needful that any animal which is slaughtered as a sacrifice must cry out.

As they are successively sacrificed, he takes out the bladders and gall-bags, inflates them with air, and hangs them about his body, as companions to the snakes which he is already wearing. “He enters pools of water, abounding in serpents and alligators. And now, if he catches a snake, he has power over that; or if he catches a leopard, he has power over the leopard; or if he catches a deadly-poisonous serpent, he has power over the most poisonous serpent. And thus he takes his degrees, the degree of leopard, that he may catch leopards, and of serpent, that he may catch serpents.” Not until he has completed these preparations does he begin to practise his profession, and to exact payment from those who come to ask his advice.

I have in my possession a photograph which represents a Zulu prophet and his wife. It is particularly valuable, as showing the singular contrast in stature between the two sexes, the husband and wife—so small is the latter—scarcely seeming to belong to the same race of mankind. This, indeed, is generally the case throughout the Kaffir tribes. The Kaffir prophet always carries a wand of office—generally a cow’s tail, fastened to a wooden handle—and in his other hand he bears a miniature shield and an assagai.


(See page 176.)


The engraving opposite represents two prophets, in the full costume of their profession. These were both celebrated men, and had attained old age when their portraits were taken. One of them was peculiarly noted for his skill as a rain-maker, and the other was famous for his knowledge of medicine and the properties of herbs. Each is arrayed in the garments suitable to the business in which he is engaged. Although the same man is generally a rain-maker, a witch-finder, a necromancer, and a physician, he does not wear the same costume on all occasions, but indues the official dress which belongs to the department, and in many cases the change is so great that the man can scarcely be recognized. In one case, he will be dressed merely in the ordinary Kaffir kilt, with a few inflated gall-bladders in his hair, and a snake-skin wound over his shoulders. In another, he will have rubbed his face and body with white earth, covered his head with such quantities of charms that his face can hardly be seen under them, and fringed his limbs with the tails of cows, the long hair-tufts of goats, skins of birds, and other wild and savage adornments; while a perpetual clanking sound is made at every movement by numbers of small tortoise-shells strung on leathern thongs. His movements are equally changed with his clothing; and a man who will, when invoking rain, invest every gesture with solemn and awe-struck grace, will, when acting as witch-finder, lash himself into furious excitement, leap high in the air, flourish his legs and arms about as if they did not belong to him, fill the air with his shrieks, and foam at the mouth as if he had been taken with an epileptic fit. It is rather curious that, while in some Kaffir tribes a man who is liable to fits is avoided and repelled, among others he is thought to be directly inspired by the souls of departed chiefs, and is ipso facto entitled to become a prophet, even though he be not of prophetical descent. He is one who has been specially chosen by the spirits, and may transmit the prophetical office to his descendants.




The object for which the Kaffir prophet is generally consulted is the discovery of witchcraft. Now, the reader must understand that the belief in witchcraft is universal throughout Africa, and in no part of that continent is it so strong as in Kaffirland. There is scarcely an ill that can befall mankind which is not believed to be caused by witchcraft, and, consequently, the prophet has to find out the author of the evil. The most harmless discovery that he can make is, that the charm has not been wrought by any individual, but has been the work of offended spirits. All illness, for example, is thought to be caused by the spirits of the departed, either because they are offended with the sufferer, or because they have been worked upon by some necromancer.

Mr. Shooter has so well described the course of proceeding in such a case that his own words must be given:—

“When people consult a prophet, they do not tell him on what subject they wish to be enlightened. He is supposed to be acquainted with their thoughts, and they merely intimate that they wish to have the benefit of his knowledge. Probably he will ‘take time to consider,’ and not give his responses at once. Two young men visiting him, in consequence of their brother’s illness, found the prophet squatting by his hut, and saluted him. He then invited them to sit down, and, retiring outside the kraal, squatted near the gate, to take snuff and meditate. This done to his satisfaction, he sends a boy to call the visitors into his presence; when they immediately join him, and squat.

“The prophet asks for his ‘assagai’—a figurative expression for his fee—when the applicants reply that they have nothing to give at present; after a while, they will seek something to pay him with. ‘No,’ answers the prophet, not disposed to give credit; ‘you want to cheat me—everybody tries to do so now. Why don’t you give me two shillings?’ They offer him a small assagai; but he is not satisfied with the weapon, and, pointing to a larger one, says, ‘That is mine.’ The man who had brought this excuses himself by saying that it does not belong to him; but the prophet persists, and it is given. Having no hope of extorting a larger fee, the prophet says, ‘Beat and hear, my people.’ Each of the applicants snaps his fingers, and replies, ‘I hear.’ The beating is sometimes, and perhaps more regularly, performed by beating the ground with sticks. The prophet now pretends to have a vision, indistinct at first, but becoming eventually clearer, until he sees the actual thing which has occurred. This vision he professes to describe as it appears to him. We may imagine him saying, for instance, ‘A cow is sick—no, I see a man; a man has been hurt.’ While he runs on in this way, the applicants reply to every assertion by beating, as at first, and saying, ‘I hear.’ They carefully abstain from saying whether he is right or wrong; but when he[181] approaches the truth, the simple creatures testify their joy by beating and replying with increased vigor.

“The prophet’s simulated vision is not a series of guesses, in which he may possibly hit upon the truth, but a systematic enumeration of particulars, in which he can scarcely miss it. Thus, he may begin by saying that the thing which the applicants wish to know relates to some animal with hair, and, going through each division of that class, suggests whatever may be likely to occur to a cow, a calf, a dog. If he find no indication that the matter relates to one of this class, he takes another, as human beings, and proceeds through it in the same manner. It is obvious that a tolerably clever practitioner may, in this way, discover from the applicants whatever may have happened to them, and send them away with a deep impression of his prophetic abilities, especially if he have any previous knowledge of their circumstances. The following sketch will give the reader a general idea of the prophet’s manner of proceeding. A few particulars only, as being sufficient for illustration, are given:—

“‘Beat and hear, my people.’

“They snap their fingers, and say, ‘I hear.’

“‘Attend, my people.’

“They beat, and say, ‘I hear.’

“‘I don’t know what you want; you want to know something about an animal with hair. A cow is sick; what’s the matter with her? I see a wound on her side—no; I’m wrong. A cow is lost; I see a cow in the bush. Nay, don’t beat, my people; I’m wrong. It’s a dog; a dog has ascended a hut.[1] Nay, that’s not it, I see now; beat vigorously; the thing relates to people. Somebody is ill—a man is ill—he is an old man. No; I see a woman—she has been married a year: where is she? I’m wrong; I don’t see yet.’

[1] This, it will be remembered, is one of the evil omens which a Kaffir fears.

“Perhaps he takes snuff, and rests a while.

“‘Beat and hear, my people. I see now; it’s a boy—beat vigorously. He is sick. Where is he sick? Let me see—there’ (placing his hand on some part of his own person). ‘No—beat and attend, my people—I see now. There!’ (indicating the actual place). ‘Where is he? Not at his kraal; he is working with a white man. How has he been hurt? I see him going to the bush—he has gone to fetch wood; a piece of wood falls upon him; he is hurt; he cannot walk. I see water; what’s the water for? They are pouring it over him; he is fainting—he is very ill. The spirits are angry with him—his father is angry; he wants beef. The boy received a cow for his wages; it was a black cow. No; I see white. Where is the white? a little on the side. The spirit wants that cow; kill it, and the boy will recover.’”

Fortunate indeed are the spectators of the scene if the necromancer makes such an announcement, and any one of these would be only too glad to compound for the sacrifice of a cow, if he could be sure of escaping accusation as a wizard. In the case of a “boy,” or even of a married man of no great rank or wealth, such will probably be the result of the inquiry—the prophet will get his fee, the spectators will get a feast, and the patient may possibly get better. But when a chief is ill, the probability is that some one will be accused of witchcraft, and if the king is ailing such an accusation is a matter of certainty.

In the eye of a Kaffir, any one may be a witch or a wizard—both sexes being equally liable to the impeachment—and on that subject no man can trust his neighbor. A husband has no faith in his own wife, and the father mistrusts his children. As a natural consequence, the faith in charms is coextensive with the belief in witchcraft, and there is scarcely a Kaffir who does not carry with him a whole series of charms, each being destined to avert some particular evil. The charms are furnished to them by the prophets, and as they never are of the least intrinsic value, and are highly paid for, the business of a prophet is rather a lucrative one. Anything will serve as a charm,—bits of bone, scraps of skin, feathers, claws, teeth, roots, and bits of wood. A Kaffir will often have a whole string of such charms hung round his neck, and, to a European, a superstitious Kaffir has often a very ludicrous aspect. One man, who seems to have been peculiarly impressible to such observances, had bedecked his head with pigs’ bristles set straight, so as to stand out on all sides, like the quills of a hedgehog, while round his neck he had strung a quantity of charms, the principal of which were pieces of bone, the head of a snake, the tooth of a young hippopotamus, and a brass door-handle. Sometimes the charms are strung on the same thong with the beads, needles, knives, snuff boxes, and other decorations of a Kaffir’s toilet, but generally they are considered worthy of a string to themselves.

But the generality of charms are made of various roots and bits of wood, which are hung round the neck, and nibbled when the wearer feels a need of their influence. One powerful set of charms is intended for the purpose of securing the wearer against the feeling of fear, and the prophets have very ingeniously managed to invent a separate charm for every kind of fear. For example, if a Kaffir has to go out at night, and is afraid of meeting ghosts, he has recourse to his ghost-charm, which he nibbles slightly, and then sallies out in bold defiance of the shades below. When he has come[182] to his journey’s end, he finds that he has met no ghosts, and, consequently, he has unlimited faith in his charm. If he should go into action as a soldier, he takes care to have his enemy-charm ready for use, and just before he enters the battle bites off a portion of the wood, masticates it thoroughly, and then blows the fragments toward the foe, confident that he is thus taking away from the courage of the enemy, and adding the subtracted amount to his own. The only misgiving which disturbs his mind is, that the enemy is doing exactly the same thing, and he cannot be quite sure that the opposing charm may not be more potent than his own. The prophet rather fosters than discourages this feeling, because the soldier—knowing that, if he retreats, he will be executed as a coward—is so anxious to possess a double share of courage that he will pay largely in order to secure a powerful charm.

Frequently, when a soldier has been thus disgraced, his friends abuse the prophet for furnishing so impotent a charm. His reply, however, is always easy: “He only gave me a goat, and could only expect goat-charms; if he wanted ox-charms, he ought to have given me a cow, or at least a calf.” Even if an adequate fee has been paid, the answer is equally ready—the man was a wizard, and the spirits of his ancestors were angry with him for troubling them so much with his conjurations.

Very few Kaffirs will venture out during the stormy season without a thunder-charm as a preservative against lightning. This object looks just like any other charm, and is, in fact, nothing more than a small piece of wood or root. The Kaffir’s faith in it is unbounded, and, in consequence of the awful severity of thunderstorms, the sale of such charms is a very lucrative part of the prophet’s business. We can scarcely wonder that the Kaffir has recourse to such preservatives, for he well knows that no art of man can avail against the terrific storms of that country. Even in our own country we often witness thunderstorms that fill the boldest with awe, while the weaker-minded of both sexes cower in abject fear at the crashing thunder and the vivid lightning streaks. But the worst storm that has been known in England or the United States is as nothing compared to the ordinary thunderstorms of Southern Africa—storms in which the native, who has been accustomed to them all his life, can do nothing but crouch to the ground, and lay his hand on his mouth in silence. What an African storm can be may be imagined from the following account by Mr. Cole:—

“Emerging after a few days from these freezing quarters, I found myself in the plains of the Graaf-Reinet district. It was pleasant to feel warm again, but what I gained in caloric I decidedly lost in the picturesque: never-ending plains of burnt grass, treeless, riverless, houseless—such were the attractions that greeted my eyes. How anything in the vegetable or animal kingdom could exist there seemed a perfect mystery. Yet the mystery is soon explained. I was there when there had been a long-continued drought—one of those visitations to which these districts are especially subject. One day the clouds began to gather, the wind fell, the air became oppressively sultry, and all gave notice of an approaching storm. My horses became restive and uneasy, and for myself I felt faint and weary to excess. My after-rider looked alarmed, for truly the heavens bore a fearful aspect. I can conceive nothing more dismal than the deep, thick, black, impenetrable masses of clouds that surrounded us. It might have been the entrance to the infernal regions themselves that stood before us. Suddenly we saw a stream of light so vivid, so intensely bright, and of such immense height (apparently), that for a moment we were half blinded, while our horses snorted and turned sharp round from the glare. Almost at the same instant burst forth a peal of thunder, like the artillery of all the universe discharged at once in our ears.

“There was no time to be lost: we struck spurs to our horses’ flanks, and galloped to a mountain side, a little way behind us, where the quick eye of my Hottentot had observed a cave. In a few minutes—moments rather—we were within it, but not before the storm had burst forth in all its fury. One moment the country round us was black as ink—the next it was a sheet of living flame, whiter than the white heat of the furnace. One long-continued, never-ceasing roar of thunder (not separate claps as we hear them in this country) deafened our ears, and each moment we feared destruction; for, more than once, huge masses of rock, detached by the lightning blast from the mountain above us, rolled down past our cavern with the roar of an avalanche. The Hottentot lay on his face, shutting out the sight, though he could not escape the sound. At length the rain-spouts burst forth, and to describe how the water deluged the earth would be impossible; suffice it, that though we had entered the cave from the road without passing any stream, or apparently any bed of one, when we again ventured forth from our place of shelter, three hours later, a broad and impassable torrent flowed between ourselves and the road, and we had to crawl along the mountain sides on foot, with great difficulty, and in the momentary danger of losing our footing on its slippery surface, and being dashed into the roaring torrent, for about two miles ere we could find a fordable spot. Two days later these plains were covered with a lovely verdure.”

Other charms are intended for softening[183] the heart of a girl whom a man wants to marry, or of her father, in order to induce him to be moderate in his demand for cows, or of the chief if he should have to prefer a request. All these charms are exactly alike to the look, and it is needless to say that they do not possess the least efficacy in one way or another.

There are some charms which undoubtedly do possess some power, and others which owe their force to the imagination of the user. The many charms which they possess against various kinds of fear belong to this class. For example, if a man meets a lion or a leopard, and nibbles a little scrap of wood, it is plain that the efficiency of these charms is wholly imaginary. In many instances this is undoubtedly the case. If a man, meeting a lion, nibbles a little piece of lion-charm, and the animal moves off, leaving him unmolested, his fears are certainly allayed by the use of the charm, though his escape is due to the natural dread of man implanted in the nature of the inferior animal, and not to the power of the charm. In battle, too, a man who thinks that his charms will render the enemy afraid of him is much more likely to fight with doubled valor, and so to bring about the result attributed to the charm. In cases of illness, too, we all know how powerful is the healing effect of the imagination in restoration of health.

But there are many instances where the material used as a charm possesses medicinal properties, of which the prophet is perfectly aware. There is, for example, one charm against weariness, the efficacy of which clearly depends upon the properties of the material. One of my friends, who was quite weary after a day’s hard hunting, was persuaded by one of his Kaffir servants to eat a little of his fatigue-charm. It was evidently made from the root of some tree, and was very bitter, though not unpleasantly so. He tried it, simply from curiosity, and was agreeably surprised to find that in a few minutes he felt his muscular powers wonderfully restored, so that he was enabled to resume his feet, and proceed briskly homeward, the extreme exhaustion having passed away. Imagination in this case had nothing to do with the success of the charm, and it is evident that the prophet who sold it to the Kaffir was aware of its medicinal properties.

So deeply rooted in the Kaffir mind is the idea that all sickness is caused by witchcraft of some kind or other, that even if cattle are ill, their sickness is supposed to have been caused by some supernatural power. The first course that is taken is necessarily the propitiation of the spirits, in order that they may overrule the machinations of the evil-doer, and preserve the cattle, which constitute the wealth and strength of the kraal. One of the best oxen is therefore sacrificed to them with the usual ceremonies, and, when it is dead, the gall and contents of the stomach are scattered over the cattle pen, and the spirits are solemnly invoked.

Here is one of these curious prayers, which was obtained from a Kaffir. “Hail! friend! thou of this kraal, grant us a blessing, beholding what we have done. You see this distress; remove it, since we have given you an animal. We know not what more you want, whether you still require anything more or not. Grant us grain that it may be abundant, that we may eat, and not be in want of anything, since we have given you what you want. This kraal was built by yourself, father, and now why do you diminish your own kraal? Build on, as you have begun, let it be larger, that your offspring, still hereabout, may increase, increasing knowledge of you, whence cometh great power.”

The flesh of the slaughtered ox is then taken into a hut, the door is closed, and no one is allowed to enter for a considerable time, during which period the spirits are supposed to be eating the beef. The door is then opened, the beef is cooked, and all who are present partake of it. If the propitiatory sacrifice fails, a prophet of known skill is summoned, and the herd collected in the isi-baya, or central enclosure, in readiness against his arrival. His first proceeding is to light a fire in the isi-baya and burn medicine upon it, taking care that the smoke shall pass over the cattle. He next proceeds to frighten the evil spirit out of them by a simple though remarkable proceeding. He takes a firebrand in his hand, puts a lump of fat in his mouth, and then walks up to one of the afflicted oxen. The animal is firmly held while he proceeds to masticate the fat, and then to eject it on the firebrand. The mixed fat and water make a great sputtering in the face of the ox, which is greatly terrified, and bursts away from its tormentors.

This process is repeated upon the entire herd until they are all in a state of furious excitement, and, as soon as they have reached that stage, the gate of the enclosure is thrown open, and the frightened animals dash out of it. All the inhabitants of the kraal rush after them, the men beating their shields with their knob-kerries, the women rattling calabashes with stones in them, and all yelling and shouting at the top of their voices. The cattle, which are generally treated with peculiar kindness, are quite beside themselves at such a proceeding, and it is a considerable time before they can recover their equanimity. This may seem to be rather a curious method of treating the cattle disease, but, as the fee of the prophet is forfeited if the animals are not cured, it is to be presumed that the remedy is more efficacious than it appears to be.

When a chief of rank happens to be ill,[184] and especially if the king himself should be ailing, no one has the least doubt that sorcery was the cause of the evil. And, as the chiefs are given to eating and drinking, and smoking and sleeping, until they are so fat that they can hardly walk, it is no wonder that they are very frequently ill. It thus becomes the business of the prophet to find out the wizard, or “evil-doer,” as he is called, by whom the charm was wrought.

To doubt that the illness was caused by witchcraft would be a sort of high treason, and afford good grounds for believing that the doubter is himself the wizard. For a Kaffir chief always chooses to think himself above the common lot of humanity—that he is superior to others, and that he cannot die like inferior men. It is evident, therefore, that any ailment which may attack him must be caused by witchcraft, and that, if the evil-doer can be detected, the spell will lose its potency, and the sufferer be restored to health.

Charms which cause ill-health are usually roots, tufts of hair, feathers, bits of bone, or similar objects, which have been in the possession of the victim, or at least have been touched by him. These are buried in some secret spot by the wizard, who mutters spells over them, by means of which the victim droops in health in proportion as the buried charm decays in the ground. The object of the prophet, therefore, is twofold; first, to point out the wizard, and, secondly, to discover the buried charms, dig them up, and reverse the spell.

The “evil-doer” is discovered by a process which is technically named “smelling.” A large circle is formed of spectators, all of whom squat on the ground, after the usual manner of Kaffirs. When all is ready, the prophet clothes himself in his full official costume and proceeds into the circle, where he is received with a great shout of welcome. Though every one knows that before an hour has elapsed one at least of their number will be accused of witchcraft, and though no one knows whether he himself may not be the victim, no one dares to omit the shout of welcome, lest he should be suspected as the wizard. The prophet then begins to pace slowly in the circle, gradually increasing his speed, until at last he breaks into a dance, accompanying his steps with a measured chant. Louder and louder peals the chant, quicker and wilder become the steps of the magic dancer, until at last the man lashes himself into a state of insane fury, his eyes rolling, tears streaming down his cheeks, and his chant interrupted by shrieks and sobs, so that the spectators may well believe, as they most firmly do, that he is possessed by the spirits of departed chiefs.

Then comes the anxious part of the ceremony. The prophet leaps in great bounds over the arena, first rushing to one part and then to another, inhaling his breath violently, like a dog trying to discover a lost scent, and seeming to be attracted to or repelled from certain individuals by a power not his own. Each Kaffir sits in trembling awe, his heart sinking when he sees the terrible prophet coming toward him, and his courage returning as the seer turns off in another direction. At last the choice is made. The prophet stops suddenly opposite one portion of the circle, and begins to sniff violently, as if trying to discover by the sense of smell who the offender may be. The vast assembly look on in awe-struck silence, while the prophet draws nearer and nearer, as if he were supernaturally attracted to the object of which he is in search. Suddenly he makes a dash forward, snatches his wand of office out of his belt, touches the doomed man with it and runs off. The hapless victim is instantly seized by the executioners, and hurried off before the chief in order to be examined.

In the mean while, the prophet is followed by a number of people who wish to see him discover the buried charm. This part of the proceeding is very similar to that which has been mentioned. He dances through the kraal, entering hut after hut, and pretending to be satisfied by the sense of smell that the charm is not to be found in each place. By degrees he approaches nearer the right spot, on which he throws his assagai, and tells the people to dig and find the charm, which, of course, he has previously taken care to place there. How this part of the performance is sometimes managed will be presently narrated.

The wretched man who is once accused openly as being accessory to the illness of his king has no hope of mercy, and yields to the dreadful fate that awaits him. The nominal examination to which he is subjected is no examination at all, but merely a succession of the severest tortures that human ingenuity can suggest, prolonged as long as life is left in him. He is asked to confess that he has used witchcraft against his king, but invariably denies his guilt, though he well knows the result of his answer. Torture after torture is inflicted upon him, fire applied in various ways being the principal instrument employed. The concluding torture is generally the same, namely, breaking a hole in an ant’s nest, tying him hand and foot and thrusting him into the interior, or fastening him in the ground, and breaking upon him a nest of large ants, noted for the fierceness of their tempers, and the agonizing venom of their stings. How ruthlessly cruel a Kaffir can be when he is excited by the fear of witchcraft can be imagined from the following account of the trial and execution of a supposed wizard. The reader must, moreover, be told that the whole of the details are not mentioned. The narrative is taken from Major W. Ross King’s interesting “Campaigning[185] in Kaffirland,” a work which describes the Kaffirs of 1851-2:—

“The same Kona, some years before, having fallen sick, a ‘witch doctor’ was consulted, according to custom, to ascertain the individual under whose evil influence he was suffering; and, as usual, a man of property was selected, and condemned to forfeit his life for his alleged crime. To prevent his being told of his fate by his friends, a party of men left Macomo’s kraal early in the morning to secure the recovery of the sick young chief by murdering one of his father’s subjects. The day selected for the sacrifice appeared to have been a sort of gala day with the unconscious victim; he was in his kraal, had just slaughtered one of his cattle, and was merrily contemplating the convivialities of the day before him, over which he was about to preside. The arrival of a party of men from the ‘great place’ gave him no other concern than as to what part of the animal he should offer them as his guests. In a moment, however, the ruthless party seized him in his kraal; when he found himself secured with a rheim round his neck, he calmly said, ‘It is my misfortune to be caught unarmed, or it should not be thus.’

“He was then ordered to produce the matter with which he had bewitched the son of his chief. He replied, ‘I have no bewitching matter; but destroy me quickly, if my chief has consented to my death.’ His executioners said they must torture him until he produced it, to which he answered, ‘Save yourselves the trouble, for torture as you will I cannot produce what I have not.’ He was then held down on the ground, and several men proceeded to pierce his body all over with long Kaffir needles. The miserable victim bore this with extraordinary resolution; his tormentors tiring, and complaining of the pain it gave their hands, and of the needles or skewers bending.

“During this time a fire had been kindled, in which large flat stones were placed to heat; the man was then directed to rise, they pointed out to him the fire, telling him it was for his further torture unless he produced the bewitching matter. He answered, ‘I told you the truth when I said, Save yourselves the trouble; as for the hot stones, I can bear them, for I am innocent; I would pray to be strangled at once, but that you would say I fear your torture.’ Here his wife, who had also been seized, was stripped perfectly naked, and cruelly beaten and ill-treated before his eyes. The victim was then led to the fire, where he was thrown on his back, stretched out with his arms and legs tied to strong pegs driven into the ground, and the stones, now red-hot, were taken out of the fire and placed on his naked body—on the groin, stomach, and chest, supported by others on each side of him, also heated and pressed against his body. It is impossible to describe the awful effect of this barbarous process, the stones slipping off the scorched and broiling flesh, being only kept in their places by the sticks of the fiendish executioners.

“Through all this the heroic fellow still remained perfectly sensible, and when asked if he wished to be released to discover his hidden charm, said, ‘Release me.’ They did so, fully expecting they had vanquished his resolution, when, to the astonishment of all, he stood up a ghastly spectacle, broiled alive! his smoking flesh hanging in pieces from his body! and composedly asked his tormentors, ‘What do you wish me to do now?’ They repeated their demand, but he resolutely asserted his innocence, and begged them to put him out of his misery; and as they were now getting tired of their labor, they made a running noose on the rheim around his neck, jerked him to the ground, and savagely dragged him about on the sharp stones, then placing their feet on the back of his neck, they drew the noose tight, and strangled him. His mangled corpse was taken into his own hut, which was set on fire and burnt to ashes. His sufferings commenced at ten A. M. and only ended at sunset.”

Kona, whose illness was the cause of this fearful scene, was a son of Macomo, the well-known Kaffir chief, who resisted the English forces for so long a time.

It seems strange that the Kaffir should act in this manner; naturally, he is by no means of a vindictive or cruel nature. Hot-tempered he is, and likely enough to avenge himself when offended, by a blow of a club or the point of an assagai. But, after the heat of the moment has passed away, his good-humor returns, and he becomes as cheerful and lively as ever. Even in war, as has already been mentioned, he is not generally a cruel soldier, when not excited by actual combat, and it seems rather strange that when a man toward whom he has felt no enmity, and who may, perhaps, be his nearest relative, is accused of a crime—no matter what it may be—he should be guilty, in cold blood, of deliberate cruelty too terrible to be described. The fact is, this conduct shows how great is his fear of the intangible power of witchcraft. Fear is ever the parent of cruelty, and the simple fact that a naturally kind-hearted and good-tempered man will lose all sense of ruth, and inflict nameless tortures on his fellow, shows the abject fear of witchcraft which fills a Kaffir’s mind.

Sometimes the prophet is not able to hide a charm in a convenient place, and is obliged to have recourse to other means. If, for example, it would be necessary to show that the “evil-doer” had buried the charm in his own hut, the prophet would not be able to gain access to the spot, and would therefore have the earth dug up, and[186] try to convey surreptitiously some pieces of root or bone into the hole. Mr. Isaacs once detected a notable prophetess in this proceeding, and exposed the trick before the assembled people.

Some of his immediate followers were ill, and they sent for a prophetess who knew that the white man did not believe in her powers. So she sent him a message, saying that, if he would give her a cow, she would detect the charms that were destroying his people, and would allow him to be present when she dug up the enchanted roots. So he sent a cow, and two days afterward had another message, stating that the cow was too small, and she must have a larger one, or that the difference must be made up in calico. At the same time she asked for the services of one of his men, named Maslamfu. He sent the calico, but declined the latter portion of the request, knowing that the man was only wanted as a means of gaining information. The expected day arrived, and, on account of the celebrity of the prophetess, vast numbers of men belonging to various tribes came in bodies, each headed by a chief of a kraal. Messenger after messenger came to announce her advance, but she did not make her appearance, and at last a courier came to say that the spirit would not allow her to proceed any further until some beads were sent to her. The chiefs, of whose arrival she had heard, and on whose liberality she doubtlessly depended, made a collection straightway, got together a parcel of beads, and sent the present by the messenger.

The beads having softened her heart, she made her solemn entry into the kraal, followed by a guard of fifty warriors, all in full panoply of war. The procession moved in solemn march to the centre of the isi-baya, and then the warriors formed themselves in a line, their large shields resting on the ground and covering the body as high as the chin, and their assagais grasped in their right hands. She was also accompanied by Maslamfu, the very man whom she had asked for, and who was evidently an old attendant of her own. The prophetess was decorated in the usual wild and extravagant manner, and she had improved her complexion by painting her nose and one eyelid with charcoal, and the other eyelid with red earth. She had also allowed all her hair to grow, and had plastered it together with a mixture of charcoal and fat. The usual tufted wand of office was in her hand.

Having now made her appearance, she demanded more beads, which were given to her, in order that she should have no excuse for declining to proceed any further in her incantations. She then began her work in earnest, leaping and bounding from one side of the enclosure to the other, and displaying the most wonderful agility. During this part of the proceedings she sang a song as an accompaniment to her dance, the words of the song itself either having no meaning, or being quite incomprehensible to the hearers. The burden of each stanza was, however, simple enough, and all the assembled host of Kaffirs joined in it at the full stretch of their lungs. After rushing to several huts, and pretending to smell them, she suddenly stopped before the white men, who were carefully watching her, and demanded another cow, on the plea that if the noxious charm were dug up without the sacrifice of a second cow, the spirits would be offended. At last she received the promise of a cow, under the proviso that the rest of the performance was to be satisfactory.

After a variety of strange performances, she suddenly turned to her audience, and appointed one of them to dig up the fatal soil. The man was a great muscular Kaffir, but he trembled like a child as he approached the sorceress, and was evidently so terrified that she was obliged to lay a spell upon him which would counteract the evil influence of the buried charm. She gave him an assagai by way of a spade, a pot for the roots, and directed him successively to three huts, making him dig in each, but was baffled by the vigilant watch which was kept upon all her movements. Having vainly searched the three huts, she suddenly turned and walked quickly out of the kraal, followed by the still terrified excavator, her husband, and Maslamfu, and proceeded to a garden, into which she flung an assagai, and told her man to dig up the spot on which the spear fell. “Being now outdone, and closely followed by us, and finding all her efforts to elude our vigilance were vain, for we examined into all her tricks with the most persevering scrutiny, she suddenly turned round, and at a quick pace proceeded to the kraal, where she very sagaciously called for her snuff box. Her husband ran to her, and presented one. This attracted my notice, as Maslamfu had hitherto performed the office of snuff box bearer, and I conjectured that, instead of snuff in the box, her husband had presented her with roots. I did not fail in my prediction; for, as she proceeded to the upper part of the kraal, she took the spear from the man appointed to dig, and dug herself in front of the hut where the people had been sick, took some earth, and added it to that in the pot; then proceeded as rapidly as possible to the calf kraal, where she dug about two inches deep, and applied two fingers of the left hand to scoop a little earth out, at the same time holding the roots with her other two fingers; then, in a second, closed her hand, mixing the roots with the earth, and putting them into the pot, saying to the man, ‘These are the things you have been looking for.’”


(See page 189.)

(See page 199.)


The natural end of this exposure was, that she was obliged to escape out of the turmoil which was caused by her manifest imposture; and it is needless to say that she did not ask for the cows.

The female professors of the art of witchcraft go through a series of ceremonies exactly similar to those which have been already described, and are capable of transmitting to any of their descendants the privilege of being admitted to the same rank as themselves. As may be gathered from the preceding account, they perform the ordinary duties of life much as do other women, whether married or single; and it is, perhaps, remarkable that, so far from celibacy being considered a necessary qualification for the office, neither men nor women seem to be eligible for it unless they are married. When once admitted into the college of prophets, the members of it always endeavor to inspire awe into the public by the remarkable style of adornment which they assume; and they are considered at liberty to depart from the usual sumptuary laws which are so strictly enforced among the Kaffir tribes, and to dress according to their individual caprice. One of the female prophets was visited by Captain Gardiner, and seems to have made a powerful impression upon him, both by her dress and her demeanor.

“This woman may be styled a queen of witches, and her appearance bespeaks her craft. Large coils of entrails stuffed with fat were suspended round her neck; while her thick and tangled hair, stuck over in all directions with the gall-bladders of animals, gave to her tall figure a very singularly wild and grotesque appearance. One of her devices, which occurred about six months ago, is too characteristic to be omitted. Tpāi had assembled his army, and was in the act of going out to war, a project which, for some reason, she thought it necessary to oppose. Finding that all her dissuasions were ineffectual, she suddenly quitted the place, and, accompanied only by a little girl, entirely concealed herself from observation. At the expiration of three or four days, she as mysteriously returned; and holding her side, apparently bleeding from an assagai-wound, pretended to have been received, in her absence, from the spirit of her late husband Maddegān, she presented herself before Tpāi. ‘Your brother’s spirit,’ she exclaimed, ‘has met me, and here is the wound he has made in my side with an assagai; he reproached me for remaining with people who had treated me so ill.’ Tpāi, either willingly or actually imposed upon by this strange occurrence, countermanded the army; and, if we are to credit the good people in these parts, the wound immediately healed! For several months subsequent to this period, she took it into her head to crawl about upon her hands and knees; and it is only lately, I understand, that she has resumed her station in society as a biped.”

One of the female prophets had a curious method of discovering an “evil-doer.” She came leaping into the ring of assembled Kaffirs, with great bounds of which a woman seems hardly capable. It is possible that she previously made use of some preparation which had an exciting effect on the brain, and assisted in working herself up to a pitch of terrible frenzy. With her person decorated with snakes, skulls, heads and claws of birds, and other strange objects—with her magic rattle in one hand, and her staff of office in the other—she flew about the circle with such erratic rapidity that the eye could scarcely follow her movements, and no one could in the least anticipate what she would do next. Her eyes seemed starting from her head, foam flew from her clenched jaws, while at intervals she uttered frantic shrieks and yells that seemed scarcely to belong to humanity. In short, her appearance was as terrible as can well be imagined, and sure to inspire awe in the simple-minded and superstitious audience which surrounded her. She did not go through the usual process of smelling and crawling, but pursued her erratic course about the ring, striking with her wand of office the man who happened to be within its reach, and running off with an incredible swiftness.

The illustration No. 1, on page 188, represents her engaged in her dread office. She has been summoned by a rich chief, who is seen in the distance, lying on his mat, and attended by his wives. The terrified culprit is seen in the foreground, his immediate neighbors shrinking from him as the prophetic wand touches him, while others are pointing him out to the executioners.

There is very marked distinction between the Kaffir prophetess and an ordinary woman, and this distinction lies principally in the gait and general demeanor. As has already been observed, the women and the men seem almost to belong to different races, the former being timid, humble, and subdued, while the latter are bold, confident, and almost haughty. The prophetess, however, having assumed so high an office, takes upon herself a demeanor that shows her appreciation of her own powers, and walks about with a bold, free step, that has in it something almost regal.

In one point, both sexes are alike when they are elevated to prophetical rank. They become absolutely ruthless in their profession, and lost to all sense of mercy. No one is safe from them except the king himself; and his highest and most trusted councillor never knows whether the prophetic finger may not be pointed at him, and the prophetic voice denounce him as a wizard. Should this be the case, his rank, wealth, and character will avail him nothing, and[190] he will be seized and tortured to death as mercilessly as if he were one of the lowest of the people.

Mixed up with these superstitious deceptions, there is among the prophets a considerable amount of skill both in surgery and medicine. Partly from the constant slaughter and cutting-up of cattle, and partly from experience in warfare and executions, every Kaffir has a tolerable notion of anatomy—far greater, indeed, than is possessed by the generality of educated persons in our own country. Consequently, he can undertake various surgical operations with confidence, and in some branches of the art he is quite a proficient. For example, a Kaffir prophet has been known to operate successfully in a case of dropsy, so that the patient recovered; while in the reducing of dislocated joints, the setting of fractured bones, and the treatment of wounds, he is an adept.

A kind of cupping is much practised by the Kaffirs, and is managed in much the same way as among ourselves, though with different and ruder instruments. Instead of cupping glasses, they use the horn of an ox with a hole bored through the smaller end. The operator begins his work by pressing the large end of the horn against the part which is to be relieved, and, applying his mouth to the other end, he sucks vigorously until he has produced the required effect. A few gashes are then made with the sharp blade of an assagai, the horn is again applied, and suction employed until a sufficient amount of blood has been extracted.

As the Kaffirs are acquainted with poisons, so are they aware of the medicinal properties possessed by many vegetable productions. Their chief medicines are obtained from the castor-oil plant and the male fern, and are administered for the same complaints as are treated by the same medicines in Europe and America. Sometimes a curious mixture of surgery and medicine is made by scarifying the skin, and rubbing medicine into it. It is probable the “witch doctors” have a very much wider acquaintance with herbs and their properties than they choose to make public; and this conjecture is partly carried out by the efficacy which certain so-called charms have on those who use them, even when imagination does not lend her potent aid. Possessing such terrible powers, it is not to be wondered at that the prophets will sometimes use them for the gratification of personal revenge, or for the sake of gain. In the former case of action, they are only impelled by their own feelings; but to the latter they are frequently tempted by others, and an unprincipled prophet will sometimes accumulate much wealth by taking bribes to accuse certain persons of witchcraft.

How Tchaka contrived to work upon the feelings of the people by means of the prophets has already been mentioned. Mr. Shooter narrates a curious instance where a false accusation was made by a corrupt prophet. One man cherished a violent jealousy against another named Umpisi (i. e. The Hyæna), and, after many attempts, succeeded in bribing a prophet to accuse his enemy of witchcraft. This he did in a very curious manner, namely, by pretending to have a vision in which he had seen a wizard scattering poison near the hut. The wizard’s name, he said, was Nukwa. Now, Nukwa is a word used by women when they speak of the hyæna, and therefore signified the same as Umpisi. Panda, however, declined to believe the accusation, and no direct indictment was made. A second accusation was, however, more successful, and the unfortunate man was put to death. Afterward, Panda discovered the plot, and in a rude kind of way did justice, by depriving the false prophet of all his cattle, forbidding him to practise his art again, and consigning the accuser to the same fate which he had caused to be inflicted on his victim.

The Kaffirs very firmly believe in one sort of witchcraft, which is singularly like some of the superstitious of the Middle Ages. They fancy that the wizards have the power of transforming the dead body of a human being into a familiar of their own, which will do all their work, and need neither pay nor keep.

The “evil-doer” looks out for funerals, and when he finds that a body has been interred upon which he can work his spell without fear of discovery, he prepares his charms, and waits until after sunset. Shielded by the darkness of midnight, he digs up the body, and, by means of his incantations, breathes a sort of life into it, which enables the corpse to move and to speak; the spirit of some dead wizard being supposed to have entered into it. He then heats stones or iron in the fire, burns a hole in the head, and through this aperture he extracts the tongue. Further spells are then cast around the revivified body, which have the effect of changing it into the form of some animal, such as a hyæna, an owl, or a wild-cat; the latter being the form most in favor with such spirits. This mystic animal then becomes his servant, and obeys all his behests, whatever they be. By day, it hides in darkness; but at night it comes forth to do its master’s bidding. It cuts wood, digs and plants the garden, builds houses, makes baskets, pots, spears, and clubs, catches game, and runs errands.

But the chief use to which it is put is to inflict sickness, or even death, upon persons who are disliked by its master. In the dead of night, when the Kaffirs are all at home, the goblin servant glides toward a doomed house, and, standing outside, it cries out, “Woe! woe! woe! to this house!” The trembling inmates hear the dread voice; but[191] none of them dares to go out or to answer, for they believe that if they so much as utter a sound, or move hand or foot, they will die, as well as the person to whom the message is sent. Should the wizard be disturbed in his incantations, before he has had time to transform the resuscitated body, it wanders through the country, powerful, a messenger of evil, but an idiot, uttering cries and menaces, but not knowing their import.

In consequence of this belief, no Kaffir dares to be seen in communication with any creature except the recognized domestic animals, such as cattle and fowls. Any attempt to tame a wild animal would assuredly cause the presumptuous Kaffir to be put to death as an “evil-doer.” A rather curious case of this kind occurred in Natal.

A woman who was passing into the bush in order to cut wood, saw a man feeding a wild-cat—the animal which is thought to be specially devoted to the evil spirit. Terrified at the sight, she tried to escape unseen; but the man perceived her, pushed the animal aside, and bribed her to be silent about what she had seen. However, she went home, and straightway told the chief’s head wife, who told her husband, and from that moment the man’s doom was fixed. Evidence against a supposed wizard is always plentiful, and on this occasion it was furnished liberally. One person had overheard a domestic quarrel, in which the man had beaten his eldest wife, and she threatened to accuse him of witchcraft; but he replied that she was as bad as himself, and that if he was executed, she would suffer the same fate. Another person had heard him say to the same wife, that they had not been found out, and that the accusers only wanted their corn. Both man and wife were summoned before the council, examined after the usual method, and, as a necessary consequence, executed on the spot.




The highest and most important duty which falls to the lot of the prophets is that of rain-making. In Southern Africa, rain is the very life of the country; and, should it be delayed beyond the usual time, the dread of famine runs through the land. The Kaffirs certainly possess storehouses, but not of sufficient size to hold enough grain for the subsistence of a tribe throughout the year—nor, indeed, could the Kaffirs be able to grow enough food for such a purpose.

During a drought, the pasture fails, and the cattle die; thus cutting off the supply of milk, which is almost the staff of life to a Kaffir—certainly so to his children. The very idea of such a calamity makes every mother in Kaffirland tremble with affright, and there is nothing which they would not do to avert it, even to the sacrifice of their own lives. Soon the water-pools dry up, then the wells, and lastly the springs begin to fail; and consequently disease and death soon make dire havoc among the tribes. In this country, we can form no conception of such a state of things, and are rather apt to suffer from excess of rain than its absence; but the miseries which even a few weeks’ drought in the height of summer can inflict upon this well-watered land may enable us to appreciate some of the horrors which accompany a drought in Southern Africa.

Among the prophets, or witch doctors, there are some who claim the power of forcing rain to fall by their incantations. Rain-making is the very highest office which a Kaffir prophet can perform, and there are comparatively few who will venture to attempt it, because, in case of failure, the wrath of the disappointed people is sometimes known to exhibit itself in perforating the unsuccessful prophet with an assagai, knocking out his brains with a knob-kerrie, or the more simple process of tearing him to pieces. Those, however, who do succeed, are at once raised to the very summit of their profession. They exercise almost unlimited sway over their own tribe, and over any other in which there is not a rain-maker of equal celebrity. The king is the only man who pretends to exercise any authority over these all-powerful beings; and even the king, irresponsible despot though he be, is obliged to be submissive to the rain-maker while he is working his incantations.

It is, perhaps, not at all strange that the Kaffirs should place implicit faith in the power of the rain-makers; but it is a strange fact that the operators themselves believe in their own powers. Of course there are many instances where a rain-maker knowingly practises imposture; but in those cases he is mostly driven to such a course by the menaces of those who are employing him; and, as a general fact, the wizard believes in the efficacy of his own charms quite as firmly as any of his followers.

A prophet who has distinguished himself as a rain-maker is soon known far and wide, and does not restrict his practice to his own[193] district. Potentates from all parts of the country send for him when the drought continues, and their own prophets fail to produce rain. In this, as in other countries, the prophet has more honor in another land than in his own, and the confidence placed in him is boundless. This confidence is grounded on the fact that a rain-maker from a distant land will often produce rain when others at home have failed. The reason is simple enough, though the Kaffirs do not see it. By the time that the whole series of native prophets have gone through their incantations, the time of drought is comparatively near to a close; and, if the prophet can only manage to stave off the actual production of rain for a few days, he has a reasonable chance of success, as every hour is a positive gain to him.

It is needless to mention that the Kaffirs are well acquainted with the signs of the weather, as is always the case with those who live much in the open air. The prophets, evidently, are more weather-wise than the generality of their race, and, however much a rain-maker may believe in himself, he never willingly undertakes a commission when the signs of the sky portend a continuance of drought. Should he be absolutely forced into undertaking the business, his only hope of escape from the dilemma is to procrastinate as much as possible, while at the same time he keeps the people amused. The most common mode of procrastination is by requesting certain articles, which he knows are almost unattainable, and saying that until he has them his incantations will have no effect. Mr. Moffatt narrates a very amusing instance of the shifts to which a prophet is sometimes put, when the rain will not fall, and when he is forced to invoke it.

“The rain-maker found the clouds in our country rather harder to manage than those he had left. He complained that secret rogues were disobeying his proclamations. When urged to make repeated trials, he would reply, ‘You only give me sheep and goats to kill, therefore I can only make goat-rain; give me for slaughter oxen, and I shall let you see ox-rain.’ One day, as he was taking a sound sleep, a shower fell, on which one of the principal men entered his house to congratulate him, but to his utter amazement found him totally insensible to what was transpiring. ‘Hélaka rare!’ (Hallo, by my father!) ‘I thought you were making rain,’ said the intruder, when, arising from his slumbers, and seeing his wife sitting on the floor shaking a milk-sack in order to obtain a little butter to anoint her hair, he replied, pointing to the operation of churning, ‘Do you not see my wife churning rain as fast as she can?’ This reply gave entire satisfaction, and it presently spread through the length and breadth of the town, that the rain-maker had churned the shower out of a milk-sack.

“The moisture caused by this shower was dried up by a scorching sun, and many long weeks followed without a single cloud, and when these did appear they might sometimes be seen, to the great mortification of the conjurer, to discharge their watery treasures at an immense distance. This disappointment was increased when a heavy cloud would pass over with tremendous thunder, but not one drop of rain. There had been several successive years of drought, during which water had not been seen to flow upon the ground; and in that climate, if rain does not fall continuously and in considerable quantities, it is all exhaled in a couple of hours. In digging graves we have found the earth as dry as dust at four or five feet depth, when the surface was saturated with rain.

“The women had cultivated extensive fields, but the seed was lying in the soil as it had been thrown from the hand; the cattle were dying for want of pasture, and hundreds of living skeletons were seen going to the fields in quest of unwholesome roots and reptiles, while many were dying with hunger. Our sheep, as before stated, were soon likely to be all devoured, and finding their number daily diminish, we slaughtered the remainder and put the meat in salt, which of course was far from being agreeable in such a climate, and where vegetables were so scarce.

“All these circumstances irritated the rain-maker very much; but he was often puzzled to find something on which to lay the blame, for he had exhausted his skill. One night, a small cloud passed over, and the only flash of lightning, from which a heavy peal of thunder burst, struck a tree in the town. Next day, the rain-maker and a number of people assembled to perform the usual ceremony on such an event. It was ascended, and ropes of grass and grass roots were bound round different parts of the trunk, which in the Acacia giraffa is seldom much injured. A limb may be torn off, but of numerous trees of that species which I have seen struck by lightning, the trunk appears to resist its power, as the fluid produces only a stripe or groove along the bark to the ground. When these bandages were made he deposited some of his nostrums, and got quantities of water handed up, which he poured with great solemnity on the wounded tree, while the assembled multitude shouted ‘Pùla pùla.’ This done the tree was hewn down, dragged out of the town, and burnt to ashes. Soon after this unmeaning ceremony, he got large bowls of water, with which was mingled an infusion of bulbs. All the men of the town then came together, and passed in succession before him, when he sprinkled each with a zebra’s tail which he dipped in the water.

“As all this and much more did not succeed, he had recourse to another stratagem.[194] He knew well that baboons were not very easily caught among the rocky glens and shelving precipices, therefore, in order to gain time, he informed the men that, to make rain, he must have a baboon; that the animal must be without a blemish, not a hair was to be wanting on its body. One would have thought any simpleton might have seen through his tricks, as their being able to present him with a baboon in that state was impossible, even though they caught him asleep. Forth sallied a band of chosen runners, who ascended the neighboring mountain. The baboons from their lofty domiciles had been in the habit of looking down on the plain beneath at the natives encircling and pursuing the quaggas and antelopes, little dreaming that one day they would themselves be objects of pursuit. They hobbled off in consternation, grunting, and screaming and leaping from rock to rock, occasionally looking down on their pursuers, grinning and gnashing their teeth. After a long pursuit, with wounded limbs, scratched bodies, and broken toes, a young one was secured, and brought to the town, the captors exulting as if they had obtained a great spoil. The wily rogue, on seeing the animal, put on a countenance exhibiting the most intense sorrow, exclaiming, ‘My heart is rent in pieces; I am dumb with grief’; and pointing to the ear of the baboon, which was scratched, and the tail, which had lost some hairs, added, ‘Did I not tell you I could not make rain if there was one hair wanting?’

“After some days another was obtained; but there was still some imperfection, real or alleged. He had often said that, if they would procure him the heart of a lion, he would show them that he could make rain so abundant that a man might think himself well off to be under shelter, as when it fell it might sweep whole towns away. He had discovered that the clouds required strong medicine, and that a lion’s heart would do the business. To obtain this the rain-maker well knew was no joke. One day it was announced that a lion had attacked one of the cattle out-posts, not far from the town, and a party set off for the twofold purpose of getting a key to the clouds and disposing of a dangerous enemy. The orders were imperative, whatever the consequences might be, which, in this instance, might have been very serious, had not one of our men shot the terrific animal dead with a gun. This was no sooner done than it was cut up for roasting and boiling; no matter if it had previously eaten some of their relations, they ate it in its turn. Nothing could exceed their enthusiasm when they returned to the town, bearing the lion’s heart, and singing the conqueror’s song in full chorus; the rain-maker prepared his medicines, kindled his fires, and might be seen upon the top of the hill, stretching forth his puny hands, and beckoning the clouds to draw near, or even shaking his spear, and threatening that, if they disobeyed, they should feel his ire. The deluded populace believed all this, and wondered the rains would not fall.

“Asking an experienced and judicious man, the king’s uncle, how it was that so great an operator on the clouds could not succeed, ‘Ah,’ he replied, with apparent feeling, ‘there is a cause for the hardheartedness of the clouds if the rain-maker could only find it out.’ A scrutinizing watch was kept upon everything done by the missionaries. Some weeks after my return from a visit to Griqua Town, a grand discovery was made, that the rain had been prevented by my bringing a bag of salt from that place in my wagon. The charge was made by the king and his attendants, with great gravity and form. As giving the least offence by laughing at their puerile actions ought always to be avoided when dealing with a people who are sincere though deluded, the case was on my part investigated with more than usual solemnity. Mothibi and his aid-de-camp accompanied me to the storehouse, where the identical bag stood. It was open, with the white contents full in view. ‘There it is,’ he exclaimed, with an air of satisfaction. But finding, on examination, that the reported salt was only white clay or chalk, they could not help laughing at their own incredulity.”

An unsuccessful Kaffir prophet is never very sorry to have white men in the country, because he can always lay the blame of failure upon them. Should they be missionaries, the sound of the hymns is quite enough to drive away the clouds; and should they be laymen, any habit in which they indulged would be considered a sufficient reason for the continuance of drought. The Kaffir always acknowledges the superior powers of the white man, and, though he thinks his own race far superior to any that inhabit the earth, he fancies that the spirits which help him are not so powerful as those who aid the white man, and that it is from their patronage, and not from any mental or physical superiority, that he has obtained his pre-eminence. Fully believing in his own rain-making powers, he fancies that the white men are as superior in this art as in others, and invents the most extraordinary theories in order to account for the fact. After their own prophets have failed to produce rain, the Kaffirs are tolerably sure to wait upon a missionary, and ask him to perform the office. The process of reasoning by which they have come to the conclusion that the missionaries can make rain is rather a curious one. As soon as the raw, cold winds begin to blow and to threaten rain, the missionaries were naturally accustomed to put on their overcoats when they left their houses. These coats were usually of a dark[195] color, and nothing could persuade the natives but that the assumption of dark clothing was a spell by which rain was compelled to fall.

It has just been mentioned that the prophets fully believe in their own supernatural powers. Considering the many examples of manifest imposture which continually take place, some of which have already been described, most Europeans would fancy that the prophets were intentional and consistent deceivers, and their opinion of themselves was something like that of the old Roman augurs, who could not even look in each other’s faces without smiling. This, however, is not the case. Deceivers they undoubtedly are, and in many instances wilfully so, but it is equally certain that they do believe that they are the means of communication between the spirits of the dead and their living relatives. No better proof of this fact can be adduced than the extraordinary series of events which took place in 1857, in which not only one prophet, but a considerable number of them took part, and in which their action was unanimous. In that year, the Kaffir tribes awoke to the conclusion that they had been gradually but surely yielding before the European settlers, and they organized a vast conspiracy by which they hoped to drive every white man out of Southern Africa, and to re-establish their own supremacy. The very existence of the colony of Natal was a thorn in their sides, as that country was almost daily receiving reinforcements from Europe, and was becoming gradually stronger and less likely to be conquered. Moreover, there were continual defections of their own race; whole families, and even the population of entire villages, were escaping from the despotic sway of the native monarch, and taking refuge in the country protected by the white man’s rifle. Several attempts had been previously made under the celebrated chief Sandilli, and the equally famous prophet-warrior Makanna, to dispossess the colonists, and in every case the Kaffir tribes had been repulsed with great loss, and were at last forced to offer their submission.

In 1857, however, a vast meeting was convened by Kreli, in order to organize a regularly planned campaign, and at this meeting a celebrated prophet was expected to be present. He did not make his appearance, but sent a messenger, saying that the spirit had ordered the Kaffirs to kill all their cattle. This strange mandate was obeyed by many of the people, but others refused to obey the prophet’s order, and saved their cattle alive. Angry that his orders had been disobeyed, the prophet called another meeting, and had a private interview with Kreli, in which he said that the disobedience of the people was the reason why the white men had not been driven out of the land. But, if they would be obedient, and slay every head of cattle in the country, except one cow and one goat, the spirits of the dead would be propitiated by their munificence, and would give their aid. Eight days were to be allowed for doing the murderous work, and on the eighth—at most on the ninth day—by means of spells thrown upon the surviving cow and goat, the cattle would all rise again, and they would repossess the wealth which they had freely offered. They were also ordered to throw away all the corn in their granaries and storehouses. As a sign that the prophecy would be fulfilled, the sun would not rise until half-past eight, it would then turn red and go back on its course, and darkness, rain, thunder, and lightning would warn the people of the events that were to follow.

The work of slaughter then began in earnest: the goats and cattle were exterminated throughout the country, and, except the two which were to be the reserve, not a cow or a goat was left alive. With curious inconsistency, the Kaffirs took the hides to the trading stations and sold them, and so fast did they pour in that they were purchased for the merest trifle, and many thousands could not be sold at all, and were left in the interior of the country. The eighth day arrived, and no signs were visible in the heavens. This did not disturb the Kaffirs very much, as they relied on the promised ninth day. On that morning not a Kaffir moved from his dwelling, but sat in the kraal, anxiously watching the sun. From six in the morning until ten they watched its course, but it did not change color or alter its course, and neither the thunder, lightning, nor rain came on in token that the prophecy was to be fulfilled.

The deluded Kaffirs then repented themselves, but too late, of their credulity. They had killed all their cattle and destroyed all their corn, and without these necessaries of life they knew that they must starve. And they did indeed starve. Famine in its worst form set in throughout the country; the children died by hundreds; none but those of the strongest constitutions survived, and even these were mere skeletons, worn away by privations, and equally unable to work or to fight. By this self-inflicted blow the Kaffirs suffered far more than they would have done in the most prolonged war, and rendered themselves incapable of resistance for many years.

That the prophets who uttered such strange mandates must have been believers in the truth of their art is evident enough, for they sacrificed not only the property of others, but their own, and we have already seen how tenaciously a Kaffir clings to his flocks and herds. Moreover, in thus destroying all the food in the country, they knew that they were condemning to starvation not only the country in general, but themselves and their families, and a man is[196] not likely to utter prophecies which, if false, would reduce him from wealth to poverty, and condemn himself, his family, and all the country to the miseries of famine, did he not believe those prophecies to be true. Although the influence exercised by the prophets is, in many cases, wielded in an injurious manner, it is not entirely an unmixed evil. Imperfect as their religious system is, and disastrous as are too often the consequences, it is better than no religion at all, and at all events it has two advantages, the one being the assertion of the immortality of the soul, and the second the acknowledgment that there are beings in the spiritual world possessed of far greater powers than their own, whether for good or evil.

One of the most extraordinary of these prophets was the celebrated Makanna, who united in his own person the offices of prophet and general, and who ventured to oppose the English forces, and in person to lead an attack on Grahamstown. This remarkable man laid his plans with great care and deliberation, and did not strike a blow until all his plots were fully developed. In the first place he contrived to obtain considerable military information by conversation with the soldiers, and especially the officers of the regiments who were quartered at Grahamstown, and in this manner contrived to learn much of the English military system, as well as of many mechanical arts.

The object which he proposed to himself is not precisely known, but as far as can be gathered from his actions, he seems to have intended to pursue a similar course to that which was taken by Tchaka among the more modern Zulus, and to gather together the scattered Amakosa tribes and to unite them in one great nation, of which he should be sole king and priest. But his ambition was a nobler one than that of Tchaka, whose only object was personal aggrandizement, and who shed rivers of blood, even among his own subjects, in order to render himself supreme. Makanna was a man of different mould, and although personal ambition had much to do with his conduct, he was clearly inspired with a wish to raise his people into a southern nation that should rival the great Zulu monarchy of the north, and also, by the importation of European ideas, to elevate the character of his subjects, and to assimilate them as far as possible with the white men, their acknowledged superiors in every art.

That he ultimately failed is no wonder, because he was one of those enthusiasts who do not recognize their epoch. Most people fail in being behind their day, Makanna failed in being before it. Enjoying constant intercourse with Europeans, and invariably choosing for his companions men of eminence among them, his own mind had become sufficiently enlarged to perceive the infinite superiority of European civilization, and to know that if he could only succeed in infusing their ideas into the minds of his subjects, the Kosa nation would not only be the equal of, but be far superior to the Zulu empire, which was erected by violence and preserved by bloodshed. Conscious of the superstitious character of his countrymen, and knowing that he would not be able to gain sufficient influence over them unless he laid claim to supernatural powers, Makanna announced himself to be a prophet of a new kind. In this part of his line of conduct, he showed the same deep wisdom that had characterized his former proceedings, and gained much religious as well as practical knowledge from the white men, whom he ultimately intended to destroy. He made a point of conversing as much as possible with the clergy, and, with all a Kaffir’s inborn love of argument, delighted in getting into controversies respecting the belief of the Christians, and the inspiration of the Scriptures.

Keen and subtle of intellect, and possessed of wonderful oratorical powers, he would at one time ask question after question for the purpose of entangling his instructor in a sophism, and at another would burst into a torrent of eloquence in which he would adroitly make use of any unguarded expression, and carry away his audience by the spirit and fire of his oratory. In the mean while he was quietly working upon the minds of his countrymen so as to prepare them for his final step; and at last, when he had thoroughly matured his plans, he boldly announced himself as a prophet to whom had been given a special commission from Uhlanga, the Great Spirit.

Unlike the ordinary prophets, whose utterances were all of blood and sacrifice, either of men or animals, he imported into his new system of religion many ideas that he had obtained from the Christian clergy, and had the honor of being the first Kaffir prophet who ever denounced vice and enforced morality on his followers. Not only did he preach against vice in the abstract, but he had the courage to denounce all those who led vicious lives, and was as unsparing toward the most powerful chiefs as toward the humblest servant.

One chief, the renowned Gaika, was direfully offended at the prophet’s boldness, whereupon Makanna, finding that spiritual weapons were wasted on such a man, took to the spear and shield instead, led an extemporized force against Gaika, and defeated him.

Having now cleared away one of the obstacles to the course of his ambition, he thought that the time had come when he might strike a still greater blow. The English had taken Gaika under their protection[197] after his defeat, and Makanna thought that he could conquer the British forces as he had those of his countryman. Accordingly, he redoubled his efforts to make himself revered by the Kaffir tribes. He seldom showed himself, passing the greater part of his time in seclusion; and when he did appear in public, he always maintained a reserved, solemn, and abstracted air, such as befitted the character which he assumed, namely, a prophet inspired, not by the spirits of the dead, but by the Uhlanga, the Great Spirit himself. Now and then he would summon the people about him, and pour out torrents of impetuous eloquence, in which he announced his mission from above, and uttered a series of prophecies, wild and extravagant, but all having one purport; namely, that the spirits of their fathers would fight for the Kaffirs, and drive the inhabitants into the sea.

Suddenly he called together his troops, and made a descent upon Grahamstown, the whole attack being so unexpected that the little garrison were taken by surprise; and the commander was nearly taken prisoner as he was riding with some of his officers. More than 10,000 Kaffir warriors were engaged in the assault, while the defenders numbered barely 350 Europeans and a few disciplined Hottentots. The place was very imperfectly fortified, and, although a few field-guns were in Grahamstown, they were not in position, nor were they ready for action.

Nothing could be more gallant than the conduct of assailants and defenders. The Kaffirs, fierce, warlike, and constitutionally brave, rushed to the attack with wild war cries, hurling their assagais as they advanced; and when they came to close quarters, breaking their last weapon, and using it as a dagger. The defenders on the other hand contended with disciplined steadiness against such fearful odds, but the battle might have gone against them had it not been for a timely succor. Finding that the place could not be taken by a direct assault, Makanna detached several columns to attack it both in flank and rear, while he kept the garrison fully employed by assailing it in front. Just at that moment, an old experienced Hottentot captain, named Boezak, happened to arrive at Grahamstown with a party of his men. Without hesitation he led his little force against the enemy, and, being familiar with Kaffir warfare, and also practised marksmen, he and his followers neglected the rank and file of the enemy, and directed their fire upon the leaders who were conducting the final charge. In a few seconds a number of the most distinguished chiefs were shot down, and the onset received a sudden check.

The Amakosa warriors soon recovered themselves and returned to the charge, but the English had taken advantage of the brief respite, and brought their field-guns to bear. Volley after volley of grape-shot was poured into the thickest columns of the enemy, and the front ranks fell like grass before the mower’s scythe. Still, the courage of the Kaffirs, stimulated by the mystic utterances of their prophet-general, was not quelled, and the undaunted warriors charged up to the very mouths of the guns, stabbing with their last spears at the artillerymen. But brave as they might be, they could not contend against the deadly hail of grape-shot and musketry that ceaselessly poured into their ranks, while as soon as a leader made himself conspicuous, he was shot by Boezak and his little body of marksmen. Makanna rallied his forces several times, but at last they were put to flight, and he was obliged to accompany his discomfited soldiers.

Short as was this battle, it was a terrible one for the Kaffirs. Fourteen hundred bodies were found dead on the field, while at least as many more died of their wounds. After this decisive repulse, Makanna surrendered himself to the English, and was sent as a prisoner to Robben Island. Here he remained for a year, with a few followers and slaves whom he was permitted to retain. One day he disarmed the guard, and tried to escape in a boat, but was drowned in the attempt.

The subjoined spirited rendering of Makanna’s gathering song is by Mr. Pringle, the poet-traveller in Southern Africa.


“Wake! Amakosa, wake!
And arm yourselves for war,
As coming winds the forest shake,
I hear a sound from far:
It is not thunder in the sky.
Nor lion’s roar upon the hill,
But the voice of him who sits on high,
And bids me speak his will!
“He bids me call you forth,
Bold sons of Kahabee,
To sweep the White Man from the earth,
And drive them to the sea:
The sea, which heaved them up at first,
For Amakosa’s curse and bane,
Howls for the progeny she nursed,
To swallow them again.
“Then come, ye chieftains bold,
With war-plumes waving high;
Come, every warrior young and old,
With club and assagai.
Remember how the spoiler’s host
Did through the land like locusts range!
Your herds, your wives, your comrades lost,—
Remember, and revenge!
“Fling your broad shields away,
Bootless against such foes;
But hand to hand we’ll fight to-day,
And with the bayonets close.
Grasp each man short his stabbing spear,
And, when to battle’s edge we come,
Rush on their ranks in full career,
And to their hearts strike home!
“Wake! Amakosa, wake!
And muster for the war:
The wizard-wolves from Keisi’s brake,
The vultures from afar,
Are gathering at Uhlanga’s call,
And follow fast our westward way—
For well they know, ere evening fall,
They shall have glorious prey!”

There is now before me a remarkable necklace, which was taken from the neck of a Kaffir who was killed in the attack of the 74th Highlanders on the Iron Mount. (See illustration No. 1, on p. 167.) This stronghold of the dark enemies was peculiarly well adapted for defence, and the natives had therefore used it as a place wherein they could deposit their stores; but, by a false move on their part, they put themselves between two fires, and after severe loss had to abandon the post. The necklace belongs to the collection of Major Ross King, who led the 74th in the attack. It has evidently been used for superstitious purposes, and has belonged to a Kaffir who was either one of the prophets, or who intended to join that order. It is composed of human finger-bones, twenty-seven in number, and as only the last joint of the finger is used, it is evident that at least three men must have supplied the bones in question. From the nature of the ornament, it is likely that it once belonged to that class of which doctors make a living, by pretending to detect the evil-doers who have caused the death of chiefs and persons of rank.

As another example of the superstitious ideas of the Kaffirs, I may here describe one of the small bags which are sometimes called knapsacks, and sometimes “daghasacs,” the latter name being given to them because their chief use is to hold the “dagha,” or preparation of hemp which is so extensively used for smoking, and which was probably the only herb that was used before the introduction of tobacco from America.

Sometimes the daghasac is made of the skin of some small animal, taken off entire; but in this instance it is made of small pieces of antelope skin neatly joined together, and having some of the hair still left in the interior. The line of junction between the upper and lower pieces of skin is ingeniously concealed by the strings of black and white beads which are attached to it; and the same beads serve also to conceal a patch which is let in in one side. The bag is suspended over the shoulders of the wearer by means of a long chain formed of iron wire, the links of which are made so neatly that, but for a few irregularities, they would be taken for the handiwork of an European wire-worker.

From the end of the bag hang two thongs, each of which bears at the extremity a valued charm. One of these articles is a piece of stick, about three inches in length, and about as thick as an artist’s pencil; and the other is a small sea-shell. The bone necklace, which has just been described, does really look like a charm or an amulet; but these two objects are so perfectly harmless in appearance that no one would detect their character without a previous acquaintance with the manners and customs of the natives. The stick in question is formed of a sort of creeper, which seems to be invariably used in the manufacture of certain charms. It has small dark leaves and pale-blue flowers, and is found plentifully at the Cape, growing among the “Boerbohne,” and other bushes, and twining its flexible shoots among their branches.

Major King, to whose collection the daghasac belongs, possesses a large specimen of the same stick, five feet in length and perfectly straight. It was taken from the centre of a bundle of assagais that had fallen from the grasp of a Kaffir, who was killed in a skirmish by the Highlanders. This stick was employed as a war charm, and probably was supposed to have the double effect of making certain the aim of the assagais and of guarding the owner from harm. Vast numbers of those wooden charms were issued to the soldiers by the celebrated prophet Umlangeni, who prophesied that by his incantations the bullets of the white man would turn to water as soon as they were fired. As the charm cost nothing except the trouble of cutting the stick to the proper length, and as he never issued one without a fee of some kind, it is evident that the sacred office became in his hands a very profitable one.

As war occupies so much of the Kaffir’s mind, it is to be expected that the prophets encourage rather than suppress the warlike spirit of the nation. During times of peace, the objects for which the prophet will be consulted are comparatively few. Anxious parents may come to the prophet for the purpose of performing some ceremony over a sick child; or, with much apparent anxiety, a deputation from the tribe may call him to attend upon the chief, who has made himself ill by eating too much beef and drinking too much beer; or he may be summoned in case of sickness, which is always a tolerably profitable business, and in which his course of treatment is sure to be successful; or if he should enjoy the high but perilous reputation of being a rain-maker, he may be called upon to perform his incantations, and will consequently receive a goodly number of presents.

These, however, are the sum of the prophet’s duties in times of peace, and he is naturally inclined to foster a warlike disposition among the people. The reader will remember that when Tchaka found that his subjects were in danger of settling down to a quiet agricultural life, he induced one of the prophets to stir up a renewal of the old[199] martial spirit. And we may be sure that he found no unwilling agents in the prophets, at least three of whom must have been engaged in the deception.

In war, however, the prophet’s services are in constant demand, and his influence and his wealth are equally increased. He retains all the privileges which he enjoyed in time of peace, in addition to those which belong to him as general adviser in time of war. From the beginning to the end of the war every one consults the prophet. When the king forms the conception of making war, he is sure to send for the prophet, and ask him to divine the result of the coming contest, and whatever his advice may be it is implicitly followed. Then, after war has been announced, another ceremony is necessary in order to propitiate the spirits of ancestors, and cause them to fight for their descendants, who sacrifice so many oxen to them, and thus enrich their cattle pen in the shades below. Next comes the grand series of ceremonies when the troops are mustered, and another, scarcely less grand, when they march off.

In the mean time almost every soldier will want a charm of some kind or other, and will pay for it. Moreover, he will generally owe the sacrifice of a cow, or at least a goat, if he return home safely at the end of a campaign, and of all sacrifices the prophet gets his share. The old men and wives who remain at home, and are sure to feel anxious about their husbands and children who are with the army, are equally sure to offer sacrifices as propitiations to the spirits. When the army returns the prophet is still in request, as he has to superintend the various sacrifices that have been vowed by the survivors and their friends. As to those who fell they have already paid their fees, and for the failure of the charm there is always some excuse, which the simple people are quite ready to believe.

Mr. Baines has kindly sent me an account of one of these prophets, and the manner in which he performed his office. Besides the snakes, skins, feathers, and other strange ornaments with which a Kaffir prophet is wont to bedeck himself, he had hung round his neck a string of bones and skulls, an amulet of which he evidently was exceedingly proud. He was consulted by some of the soldiers about the result of the expedition, and straightway proceeded to work. Taking off the necklace he flung it on the ground, and then squatted down beside it, scanning carefully the attitude assumed by every bone, and drawing therefrom his conclusions. (See the engraving No. 2, on page 188.) At last he rose, and stated to his awe-struck clients that before the war was over many of them would eat dust, i. e. be killed.

This announcement had a great effect upon the dark soldiers, and their spirits were sadly depressed by it. The commander, however, was a man who was independent of such actions, and did not intend to have his men disheartened by any prophet. So he sent for the seer in question, and very plainly told him that his business was to foretell success, and not failure; and that, if he did not alter his line of prophecy, he must be prepared to take the consequences. Both the seer and the spirits of departed chiefs took this rather strong hint, and after that intimation the omens invariably proved to be favorable, and the soldiers recovered their lost equanimity.




Closely connected with the religion of any country is the mode in which the bodies of the dead are disposed of.

Burial in the earth is the simplest and most natural mode of disposing of a dead body, and this mode is adopted by the Kaffirs. There are slight variations in the method of interment and the choice of a grave, but the general system prevails throughout Kaffirland. The body is never laid prostrate, as among ourselves; but a circular hole is dug in the ground, and the body is placed in it in a sitting position, the knees being brought to the chin, and the head bent over them. Sometimes, and especially if there should be cause for haste, the Kaffirs select for a grave an ant-hill, which has been ransacked by the great ant-bear or aard-vark, and out of which the animal has torn the whole interior with its powerful claws, leaving a mere oven-shaped shell as hard as a brick. Generally, however, a circular hole is dug, and the body is placed in it, as has been already mentioned. As to the place of burial, that depends upon the rank of the dead person. If he be the head man of a kraal he is always buried in the isi-baya, or cattle enclosure, and the funeral is conducted with much ceremony. During the last few days of illness, when it is evident that recovery is impossible, the people belonging to the kraal omit the usual care of the toilet, allowing their hair to grow as it likes, and abstaining from the use of grease or from washing. The worst clothes are worn, and all ornaments are removed. They also are bound to fast until the funeral, and there is a humane custom that the children are first supplied with an abundant meal, and not until they have eaten are they told of their father’s death.

The actual burial is performed by the nearest relatives, and on such an occasion it is not thought below the dignity of a man to assist in digging the grave. The body is then placed in the grave; his spoon, mat, pillow, and spears are laid beside him: the shafts of the latter are always broken, and the iron heads bent, perhaps from some vague idea that the spirit of the deceased will come out of the earth and do mischief with them. Should he be a rich man, oxen are also killed and placed near him, so that he may go into the land of spirits well furnished with cattle, implements, and weapons. If the person interred should not be of sufficient rank to be entitled to a grave in the isi-baya, he is buried outside the kraal, and over the grave is made a strong fence of stones or thorn-bushes, to prevent the corpse from being disturbed by wild beasts or wizards. As soon as the funeral party returns, the prophet sends the inhabitants of the kraal to the nearest stream, and after they have washed therein he administers some medicine to them, and then they are at liberty to eat and drink, to milk their cattle, and to dress their hair. Those, however, who dug the grave and handled the body of the dead man are obliged to undergo a double course of medicine and lustration before they are permitted to break their fast.

It is not every Kaffir who receives the[201] funeral rites. Those who have been killed by order of the king are considered unworthy of receiving honorable sepulture, and no matter what may be the crime of which they are accused, or whether indeed they have not been killed through some momentary caprice of the despot, their bodies are merely dragged away by the heels into the bush, and allowed to become the prey of the vultures and hyænas. Except when heated by conflict, the Kaffir has an invincible repugnance to touching a dead body, and nothing can show greater respect for the dead than the fact, that the immediate relatives conquer this repugnance, and perform the last office in spite of their natural aversion to such a duty, and with full knowledge of the long and painful fast which they must undergo.

The friends of the family then assemble near the principal hut, and loudly bewail the loss which the kraal has sustained. An ox is killed, and its flesh cooked as a feast for the mourners, the animal itself being offered as a sacrifice to the departed chief. Having finished their banquet, and exhausted all their complimentary phrases toward the dead, they generally become anything but complimentary to the living. Addressing the eldest son, who has now succeeded to his father’s place, they bewail his inexperience, condole with the wives upon their hard lot in being under the sway of one so inferior in every way to the deceased, and give the son plenty of good advice, telling him not to beat any of his mothers if he can keep them in order without manual correction, to be kind to all his brothers and sisters, and to be considerate towards the dependants. They enforce their arguments by copious weeping. Tears always come readily to a Kaffir, but, if there should be any difficulty in shedding them, a liberal use of pungent snuff is sure to produce the desired result.

Such is the mode in which ordinary men and chiefs are buried. The funerals of children are conducted in a much quicker and simpler manner, as may be seen by the following extract from Gardiner’s work on Southern Africa. He is describing the funeral of a child belonging to a Kaffir with whom he was acquainted:—

“After threading an intricate path, and winding about for some little distance, they stopped. Inquiring if that was the spot they had chosen, Kolelwa replied, ‘You must show us.’ On being again told that it was left entirely for his decision, they proceeded a few paces further, and then commenced one of the most distressing scenes I ever witnessed, a father with his own hand opening the ground with his hoe, and scooping out a grave for his own child, assisted only by one of his wives—while the bereaved mother, in the bitterness of her grief, seated under some bushes like another Hagar, watched every movement, but dared not trust herself nearer to the mournful spot.

“When all was prepared Kolelwa returned, with the wife who had assisted him, for the body—Nombuna, the mother, still remaining half concealed among the trees. Everything was conducted so silently that I did not perceive their return, until suddenly turning to the spot I observed the woman supporting the body so naturally upon her lap, as she sat on the ground, that at first I really supposed it had been a living child. Dipping a bundle of leafy boughs into a calabash of water, the body was first washed by the father, and then laid by him in the grave; over which I read a selection from the Burial Service (such portions only as were strictly applicable); concluding with a short exhortation to those who were present. The entire opening was then filled in with large fagots, over which earth was thrown, and above all a considerable pile of thorny boughs and branches heaped, in order to render it secure from the approach of wild animals.”

In strange contrast with this touching and peaceful scene stand the terrible rites by which Tchaka celebrated the funeral of his mother Mnande. It has already been mentioned, on page 124, that Tchaka was suspected, and not without reason, of having been accessory, either actively or passively, to his mother’s death; and it was no secret that she was a turbulent, quarrelsome, bad-tempered woman, and that Tchaka was very glad to be rid of her. Now, although a Kaffir is much despised if he allows his mother to exercise the least authority over him when he has once reached adult age, and though it is thought rather a praiseworthy act than otherwise for a young man to beat his mother, as a proof that he is no more a child, the murder of a parent is looked upon as a crime for which no excuse could be offered.

Irresponsible despot as was Tchaka, he was not so utterly independent of public opinion that he could allow himself to be spoken of as a parricide, and accordingly, as soon as his mother was beyond all chance of recovery, he set himself to work to make his people believe that he was really very sorry for his mother’s illness. In the first place, he cut short a great elephant-hunting party at which he was engaged; and although he was fully sixty miles from the kraal in which his mother was residing, he set off at once, and arrived at home in the middle of the following day. At Tchaka’s request, Mr. Fynn went to see the patient, and to report whether there was any chance of her recovery. His account of the interview and the subsequent ceremonies is as follows:—

“I went, attended by an old chief, and found the hut filled with mourning women, and such clouds of smoke that I was obliged[202] to bid them retire, to enable me to breathe within it. Her complaint was dysentery, and I reported at once to Tchaka that her case was hopeless, and that I did not expect that she would live through the day. The regiments which were then sitting in a semi-circle around him were ordered to their barracks: while Tchaka himself sat for about two hours, in a contemplative mood, without a word escaping his lips; several of the elder chiefs sitting also before him. When the tidings were brought that she had expired, Tchaka immediately arose and entered his dwelling; and having ordered the principal chiefs to put on their war dresses, he in a few minutes appeared in his. As soon as the death was publicly announced, the women and all the men who were present tore instantly from their persons every description of ornament.

“Tchaka now appeared before the hut in which the body lay, surrounded by his principal chiefs, in their war attire. For about twenty minutes he stood in a silent, mournful attitude, with his head bowed upon his shield, on which I saw a few large tears fall. After two or three deep sighs, his feelings becoming ungovernable, he broke out into frantic yells, which fearfully contrasted with the silence that had hitherto prevailed. This signal was enough: the chief and people, to the number of about fifteen thousand, commenced the most dismal and horrid lamentations....

“The people from the neighboring kraals, male and female, came pouring in; each body, as they appeared in sight, at the distance of half a mile, joining to swell the terrible cry. Through the whole night it continued, none daring to take rest or refresh themselves with water; while, at short intervals, fresh bursts were heard as more distant regiments approached. The morning dawned without any relaxation, and before noon the number had increased to about sixty thousand. The cries became now indescribably horrid. Hundreds were lying faint from excessive fatigue and want of nourishment; while the carcasses of forty oxen lay in a heap, which had been slaughtered as an offering to the guardian spirits of the tribe.

“At noon the whole force formed a circle, with Tchaka in their centre, and sang a war song, which afforded them some relaxation during its continuance. At the close of it, Tchaka ordered several men to be executed on the spot, and the cries became, if possible, more violent than ever. No further orders were needed; but, as if bent on convincing their chief of their extreme grief, the multitude commenced a general massacre—many of them received the blow of death while inflicting it on others, each taking the opportunity of revenging his injuries, real or imaginary. Those who could no more force tears from their eyes—those who were found near the river, panting for water—were beaten to death by others mad with excitement. Toward the afternoon I calculated that not fewer than seven thousand people had fallen in this frightful, indiscriminate massacre. The adjacent stream, to which many had fled exhausted to wet their parched tongues, became impassable from the number of dead bodies which lay on each side of it; while the kraal in which the scene took place was flowing with blood.”

On the second day after Mnande’s death her body was placed in a large grave, near the spot where she had died, and ten of the best-looking girls in the kraal were enclosed alive in the same grave. (See the illustration opposite.) Twelve thousand men, all fully armed, attended this dread ceremony, and were stationed as a guard over the grave for a whole year. They were maintained by voluntary contributions of cattle from every Zulu who possessed a herd, however small it might be. Of course, if Tchaka could celebrate the last illness and death of his mother with such magnificent ceremonies, no one would be likely to think that he had any hand in her death. Extravagant as were these rites, they did not quite satisfy the people, and the chiefs unanimously proposed that further sacrifices should be made. They proposed that every one should be killed who had not been present at Mnande’s funeral; and this horrible suggestion was actually carried out, several regiments of soldiers being sent through the country for the purpose of executing it.

Their next proposal was that the very earth should unite in the general mourning, and should not be cultivated for a whole year; and that no one should be allowed either to make or eat amasi, but that the milk should be at once poured out on the earth. These suggestions were accepted; but, after a lapse of three months, a composition was made by large numbers of oxen offered to Tchaka by the chiefs. The last, and most astounding, suggestion was, that if during the ensuing year any child should be born, or even if such an event were likely to occur, both the parents and the child should be summarily executed. As this suggestion was, in fact, only a carrying out, on a large scale, of the principle followed by Tchaka in his own households, he readily gave his consent; and during the whole of the year there was much innocent blood shed.

After the year had expired, Tchaka determined upon another expiatory sacrifice, as a preliminary to the ceremony by which he went out of mourning. This, however, did not take place, owing to the remonstrances of Mr. Fynn, who succeeded in persuading the despot to spare the lives of his subjects. One reason why Tchaka acceded to the request was his amusement at the notion of a white man pleading for the life of “dogs.”





(See page 1216.)

(See page 202.)


The whole of the able-bodied part of the population had taken warning by the massacre of the previous year, and presented themselves at the ceremony. They were arranged in regiments, and, as soon as the chief made his appearance, they moved simultaneously to the tops of the hills that surrounded the great kraal in which the ceremony was to take place. Upward of a hundred thousand oxen were brought together to grace the ceremony, their bellowing being thought to be a grateful sound to the spirits of the dead. Standing amidst this savage accompaniment to his voice, Tchaka began to weep and sob loudly, the whole assembly echoing the sound, as in duty bound, and making a most hideous din. This noisy rite began in the afternoon, and closed at sunset, when Tchaka ordered a quantity of cattle to be killed for a feast. Next day came the ceremony by which Tchaka was released from his state of mourning. Every man who owned cattle had brought at least one calf with him, and when the king took his place in the centre of the kraal, each man cut open the right side of the calf, tore out the gall-bladder, and left the wretched creature to die. Each regiment then moved in succession before Tchaka, and, as it marched slowly round him, every man sprinkled gall over him. After he had been thus covered with gall, he was washed by the prophets with certain preparations of their own; and with this ceremony the whole proceedings ended, and Tchaka was out of mourning.

It has already been mentioned that in some instances, especially those where the dead have been murdered by command of the king, or have been tortured to death as wizards, the bodies are merely dragged into the bush, and are left to be devoured by the hyænas and the vultures. Cases are also known where a person on the point of death has been thrown into the river by the relatives before life was quite extinct. The actors in these strange tragedies seem to have thought that the dying person need not be particular about an hour more or less in the world, especially as by such a proceeding they freed themselves from the hated duty of handling a dead body. Sometimes those who are sick to death receive even a more horrible treatment than the comparatively merciful death by drowning, or by the jaws of crocodiles; the dying and the very old and infirm being left to perish, with a small supply of food and drink, enough to sustain life for a day or two. Mr. Galton relates one such instance that occurred within his own experience.

“I saw a terrible sight on the way, which has often haunted me since. We had taken a short cut, and were a day and a half from our wagons, when I observed some smoke in front, and rode to see what it was. An immense black-thorn tree was smouldering, and, from the quantity of ashes about, there was all the appearance of its having burnt for a long time. By it were tracks that we could make nothing of—no footmarks, only an impression of a hand here and there. We followed them, and found a wretched woman, most horribly emaciated; both her feet were burnt quite off, and the wounds were open and unhealed. Her account was that, many days back, she and others were encamping there; and when she was asleep, a dry but standing tree, which they had set fire to, fell down and entangled her among its branches: there she was burnt before she could extricate herself, and her people left her. She had since lived on gum alone, of which there were vast quantities about: it oozes down from the trees, and forms large cakes in the sand. There was water close by, for she was on the edge of a river-bed. I did not know what to do with her; I had no means of conveying her anywhere, nor any place to convey her to.

“The Damaras kill useless and worn-out people—even sons smother their sick fathers; and death was not far from her. I had three sheep with me; so I off-packed, and killed one. She seemed ravenous; and, though I purposely had off-packed some two hundred yards from her, yet the poor wretch kept crawling and dragging herself up to me, and would not be withheld, for fear I should forget to give her the food I promised. When it was ready, and she had devoured what I gave her, the meat acted as it often does in such cases, and fairly intoxicated her; she attempted to stand, regardless of the pain, and sang, and tossed her lean arms about. It was perfectly sickening to witness the spectacle. I did the only thing I could; I cut the rest of the meat in strips, and hung it within her reach, and where the sun would jerk (i. e. dry and preserve) it. It was many days’ provision for her. I saw she had water, firewood, and gum in abundance, and then I left her to her fate.”

This event took place among the Damaras; but Captain Gardiner mentions that among the Zulus a dying woman was carried into the bush, and left there to perish in solitude. That such a custom does prevail is evident, and it is likely that it may be more frequently practised than is generally supposed. People of rank are tended carefully enough during sickness; but men and women of low condition, especially if they are old and feeble, as well as prostrated with sickness, are not likely to have much chance of being nursed in a country where human life is so little valued.




The sleeping accommodation of a Kaffir is of the simplest kind, and to European minds forms about as uncomfortable a set of articles as can be imagined. Indeed, with many of the young unmarried men, the only permanent accommodation for sleeping is that which is furnished by the floor of the hut, or the ground itself if they should be forced to sleep in the open air. Soldiers on a campaign always sleep on the ground, and as they are forced to leave all their clothes behind them, they seek repose in the most primitive manner imaginable. It has already been mentioned that, in order to secure celerity of movement, a Kaffir soldier carries nothing but his weapon, and is not even encumbered by dress. Hence he has a notable advantage over European soldiers, who would soon perish by disease were they obliged to go through a campaign without beds, tents, kit, or commissariat.

Our Highland soldiers are less dependent on accessory comforts than most European regiments, and will contentedly wrap themselves in their plaids, use their knapsacks as pillows, and betake themselves to sleep in the open air. But they have at all events their plaid, while the Kaffir warrior has nothing but his shield, which he may use as a bed if he likes, and it is, perhaps, fortunate for him that long training in hard marches renders him totally indifferent as to the spot on which he is to lie. His chief care is that the place which he selects should not be wet, or be in the close neighborhood of ants’ nests or snakes’ haunts, and his next care is to arrange his body and limbs so as to fit the inequalities of the ground. As to the hardness of his extemporized couch, he thinks little or nothing of it.

But when our Kaffir lad is admitted into the ranks of men, and takes to himself his first wife, he indulges in the double luxury of a bed and a pillow—the former being made of grass stems and the latter of wood. This article of furniture is almost the same throughout Southern Africa, and, among the true Kaffir tribes, the bed of the king himself and that of his meanest subject are identical in material and shape. It is made of the stems of grasses, some three feet in length, and about as thick as crowquills. These are laid side by side, and are fastened together by means of double strings which pass round the grass stems, and are continually crossed backward and forward so as to form them into a mat about three feet in width and six in length. This method of tying the grass stems together is almost identical with that which is employed by the native tribes that inhabit the banks of the Essequibo River, in tying together the slender arrows which they project through their blow-guns. The ends of the grass stems are all turned over and firmly bound down with string, so as to form a kind of selvage, which protects the mat from being unravelled.

On looking at one of these sleeping-mats,[207] the observer is apt to fancy that a vast amount of needless trouble has been taken with it—that the maker would have done his work quicker and better, and that the article itself would have looked much more elegant, had he woven the materials instead of lashing them with string. But the Kaffir has not the faintest idea of weaving, and even the primitive hand-loom, which is so prevalent in different parts of the world, is not to be found in Southern Africa.

The Kaffir can dress skins as well as any European furrier. He can execute basket-work which no professional basket-maker can even imitate, much less rival. He can make spear blades and axes which are more suitable to his country than the best specimens of European manufacture. But he has not the least notion of the very simple operation of weaving threads into cloth. This ignorance of an almost universal art is the more remarkable because he can weave leather thongs and coarse hairs into elaborate ornaments, and can string beads together so as to form flat belts or even aprons. Still, such is the fact, and a very curious fact it is.

When the sleeper awakes in the morning, the bed is rolled into a cylindrical form, lashed together with a hide thong, and suspended out of the way in the hut. The student of Scripture will naturally be reminded of the command issued to the paralytic man, to “take up his bed and walk,” the bed in question being the ordinary thin mattress in use in the East, which is spread flat on the ground when in use, and is rolled up and put away as soon as the sleeper rises from his couch. If a Kaffir moves from one residence to another, his wife carries his bed with her, sometimes having her own couch balanced on the top of her head, and her husband’s strapped to her shoulders. This latter mode of carrying the bed may be seen in the illustration “Dolls,” on page 33, where the woman is shown with the bed partly hidden under her kaross.

Should the Kaffir be a man of rather a luxurious disposition, he orders his wife to pluck a quantity of grass or fresh leaves, and by strewing them thickly on the ground and spreading the mat over them, he procures a bed which even an ordinary European would not despise. Although the bed is large enough to accommodate a full-sized man, it is wonderfully light. My own specimen, which is a very fair example of a Kaffir bed, weighs exactly two pounds and one ounce, so that the person who carries it is incommoded not so much by its weight as by its bulk. The bulk is, however, greatly diminished by the firmness with which it is rolled up, so that it is made into a cylinder only three or four inches in diameter. The reader may remember a story of a runaway bride, named Uzinto, who rather astonished a Kaffir chief by pitching her bed headlong through the door of the hut. By reference to the illustration on page 209, it is easy to see how readily the bed could be thrown through the narrow entrance, and how sharp a blow could be struck by it if thrown with any force.

The pillow used by the Kaffir is even less comfortable than his bed, inasmuch as it consists of nothing but a block of wood. The shape and dimensions of these pillows are extremely variable. The specimens that I have are fifteen inches in length and nearly six in height, and, as they are cut out of solid blocks of the acacia tree, the weight is considerable.

Upon the pillow the maker has bestowed great pains, and has carved the eight legs in a very elaborate manner, cutting them into pyramidal patterns, and charring the alternate sides of each little pyramid, so as to produce the contrast of black and white which seems to be the Kaffir’s ideal of beauty in wood-carving. It may here be noticed that the Kaffir is not at all inventive in patterns, and that a curious contrast exists between his architecture and his designs. The former, it may be remarked, is all built upon curved lines, while in the latter the lines are nearly straight. It is very seldom indeed that an uncivilized Kaffir draws a pattern which is not based upon straight lines, and even in those instances where he introduces circular patterns the circles are small.

Comfortless as these pillows seem to us, they are well enough suited to the Kaffir; even the married men, whose heads are closely shaven, and who have not even the protection of their hair against the hardness of the wood, are far better pleased with their pillow than they would be with the softest cushion that could be manufactured out of down and satin. Nor is this taste peculiar to the Kaffir, or even to the savage. No Englishman who has been accustomed to a hard and simple mattress would feel comfortable if obliged to sleep in a feather-bed; and many travellers who have been long accustomed to sleep on the ground have never been able to endure a bed afterward. I have known several such travellers, one of whom not only extended his dislike of English sleeping accommodations to the bed, but to the very pillow, for which article he always substituted a block of oak, slightly rounded at the top.

The illustration, “Dingan at home,” on page 209, represents the mode in which a Kaffir reposes. The individual who is reclining is the great Kaffir monarch, Dingan, and the reader will observe that his bed is a mere mat, and that his pillow is only a block of wood. The hut which is here represented is the celebrated one which he built at his garrison town Ukunginglove, and it was specially noted because it was supported by twenty pillars. The fireplace[208] of this hut was remarkable for its shape, which, instead of being the simple circle in general use among the Kaffirs, resembled in form that ornament which is known to architects by the name of quatrefoil. A few of his wives are seen seated round the apartment, and, as Dingan was so great a man, they were not permitted to stand upright, or even to use their feet in any way, so that, if they wished to move from one part of the hut to another, they were obliged to shuffle about on their knees. The illustration is taken from a sketch by Captain Gardiner, who was invited by Dingan to an interview in the house, and during which interview he rather astonished his guest by retiring for a short time, and then presenting himself with his face, limbs, and body entirely covered with red and white spots, like those on toy horses.

The reader can form, from the contemplation of this drawing, a tolerably accurate idea of the luxuries afforded by the wild, savage life which some authors are so fond of praising.

As to music, the Kaffir has rather curious ideas on the subject. His notion of melody is but very slight, while his timing is perfection itself. The songs of the Kaffir tribes have already been mentioned, and the very fact that several hundred men will sing the various war songs as if they were animated with a single spirit shows that they must all keep the most exact time. In this point they aid themselves by the violent gestures in which they indulge. A Kaffir differs from an European vocalist in this point, namely, that he always, if possible, sits down when he sings. He and his companions will squat in a circle, sometimes three or four rows deep, and will shout some well-known song at the top of their voices, swaying their polished bodies backward and forward as if they were one man, and aiding the time by thumping the ground with their knob-kerries, and bringing their elbows violently against their ribs so as to expel the notes from their lungs with double emphasis.

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Some of the tunes which are sung by the Kaffirs at their dances are here given, the music being taken from the Rev. J. Shooter’s work. The reader will at once see how boldly the time is marked in them, and how well they are adapted for their purpose. Neither are they entirely destitute of tune, the last especially having a wild and quaint sort of melody, which is calculated to take a strong hold of the ear, and to haunt the memories of those who have heard it sung as only Kaffirs can sing it. Among some of the Bosjesman tribes a sort of harmony—or rather sustained discord—is employed, as will be seen in a succeeding page, but the Zulus seem to excel in unison songs, the force of which can be imagined by those who are familiar with the grand old hymns and Gregorian tunes that have been suffered to lie so long in obscurity.


(See page 207.)

(See page 213.)


Of course, the quality of a Kaffir’s voice is not that which would please an European vocalist. Like all uncultivated songsters, the Kaffir delights in strong contrasts, now using a high falsetto, and now dropping suddenly into a gruff bass. It is a very remarkable fact that this method of managing the voice is tolerably universal throughout the world, and that the accomplished vocalist of Kaffirland, of China, of Japan, of Persia, and of Arabia, sings with exactly that falsetto voice, that nasal twang, and that abrupt transition from the highest to the lowest notes, which characterize our uneducated singers in rural districts. Put a Wiltshire laborer and a Chinese gentleman into different rooms, shut the doors so as to exclude the pronunciation of the words, ask them to sing one of their ordinary songs, and the hearer will scarcely be able to decide which room holds the English and which the Chinese vocalist. In the specimens of music which have been given, the reader will notice in several places the sudden rise or drop of a whole octave, and also the curiously jerking effect of many passages, both eminently characteristic of music as performed in country villages where modern art has not modified the voice.

The musical instruments of the Kaffir are very few, and those of the most simple kind. One is the whistle that is often diverted from its normal duty as a mere whistle, to become a musical instrument, which, although it has no range of notes, can at all events make itself heard through any amount of vocal accompaniment. And, as a Kaffir thinks that a song is no song unless it is to be sung with the whole power of the lungs, so does he think that the whistle in question is a valuable instrument in his limited orchestra.

There is, however, one musical instrument which is singularly soft and low in its tones, and yet which is in great favor with the Kaffir musicians. This is the instrument which is sometimes called a harp, sometimes a guitar, and sometimes a fiddle, and which has an equal right to either title, inasmuch as it has not the least resemblance to either of those instruments. For the sake of brevity, we shall take the first of these names, and call it a harp. At first sight, the spectator would probably take it for an ordinary bow, to which a gourd had been tied by way of ornament, and, indeed, I have known the instrument to be thus described in a catalogue.

The instrument which is represented in the illustration entitled “Harp” on page 155 is taken from a specimen which was brought from the Natal district by the late H. Jackson, Esq., to whom I am indebted for so many of the weapons and implements which appear in this work. The bow is about five feet in length, and is made exactly as if it were intended to be used for propelling arrows. The true Kaffir, however, never uses the bow in warfare, or even in hunting, thinking it to be a cowardly sort of weapon, unworthy of the hand of a warrior, and looking upon it in much the same light as the knights of old looked first on the cross-bows, and afterward on fire-arms, neither of which weapons give fair play for a warrior’s skill and strength. The cord is made of twisted hair, and is much longer than the bow, so that it can be tightly or loosely strung according to the tone which the dusky musician desires to produce. Near one end of the bow a round hollow gourd is firmly lashed by means of a rather complicated arrangement of leathern thongs. When the gourd is in its place, and the string is tightened to its proper tension, the instrument is complete.

When the Kaffir musician desires to use it, he holds it with the gourd upon his breast, and strikes the cord with a small stick, producing a series of sounds which are certainly rather musical than otherwise, but which are so faint as to be scarcely audible at the distance of a few yards. Although the sound is so feeble, and the instrument is intended for time rather than tone, the Kaffirs are very fond of it, and will play on it by the hour together, their enthusiasm being quite unintelligible to an European ear.

Generally the performer is content with the tones which he obtains by stringing the bow to a certain note, but an expert player is not content with such an arrangement. He attaches a short thong to the string, and to the end of the thong he fastens a ring. The forefinger of the left hand is passed through the ring, and the performer is able as he plays to vary the tone by altering the tension of the string. The object of the calabash is to give depth and resonance to the sound, and it is remarkable that a similar contrivance is in use in many parts of the world, hollow bamboo tubes, earthenware drums, and brass vessels being used for the same purpose.

The reader may perhaps remember that in the middle ages, and indeed in some districts up to a comparatively later time, a single-stringed fiddle was used in the country. It was simply a bow, with a blown bladder inserted between the string and the staff, and looked very much like the Kaffir instrument with the gourd turned inside, so as to allow the string to pass over it. Instead of being merely struck with a small stick, it was played with a rude kind of bow; but, even in the hands of the most skilful performer, its tones must have been anything but melodious. The Kaffir harp is used both by men and women. There is also a kind of rude flageolet, or flute, made of a reed, which is used by the Kaffirs. This instrument is, however, more general among the Bechuanas, and will be described in a future page.

In the course of the work, mention has been made of the earthenware pots used by the Kaffirs. These vessels are of the rudest imaginable description, and afford a curious contrast to the delicate and elaborate basket-work which has been already mentioned. When a Kaffir makes his baskets, whether he be employed upon a small milk-vessel or a large store-house, he invents the most delicate and elaborate patterns, and, out of the simplest possible materials, produces work which no European basket-maker can surpass. But when vessels are to be made with clay the inventive powers of the maker[212] seem to cease, and the pattern is as inferior as the material. Perhaps this inferiority may be the result of the fact that basket-making belongs to the men, who are accustomed to cut patterns of various kinds upon their spoons and gourds, whereas the art of pottery, which implies really hard work, such as digging and kneading clay, is handed over to the women, who are accustomed to doing drudgery.

The Kaffir has no knowledge of machinery, and, just as he is ignorant of the rudest form of a loom for weaving thread into fabrics, so is he incapable of making the simplest kind of a wheel by which he may aid the hand in the shaping of pottery. This is perhaps the more remarkable, as the love of the circular form is so strong in the Kaffir mind that we might naturally imagine him to invent a simple kind of wheel like that which is employed by the peasants of India. But, as may be conjectured from the only attempts at machinery which a Kaffir makes, namely, a bellows whereby he saves his breath, and the extremely rude mill whereby he saves his teeth, the construction of a revolving wheel is far beyond him. In making their pots the women break to pieces the nests of the white ant, and, after pounding the material to a fine powder, mix it with water, and then knead it until it is of a proper consistency. They then form the clay into rings, and build up the pots by degrees, laying one ring regularly upon another until the requisite shape is obtained. It is evident therefore, that the manufacture of a tolerably large pot is a process which occupies a considerable time, because it has to be built up very slowly, lest it should sink under its own weight.

The only tool which is used in the manufacture of Kaffir pottery is a piece of wood, with which the operator scrapes the clay rings as she applies them, so as to give a tolerably smooth surface, and with which she can apply little pieces of clay where there is a deficiency. The shapes of these pots and pans are exceedingly clumsy, and their ungainly look is increased by the frequency with which they become lop-sided in consequence of imperfect drying. Examples of these articles may be seen in several parts of this work. At the farther end of the illustration No. 1, on page 63, may be seen several of the larger pots, which are used for holding grain after it has been husked.

The operation of husking, by the way, is rather a peculiar one, and not at all pleasant for the spectators who care for their eyes or faces. The dry heads of maize are thrown in a heap upon the hard and polished floor of the hut, and a number of Kaffirs sit in a circle round the heap, each being furnished with the ever-useful knob-kerrie. One of them strikes up a song, and the others join in full chorus, beating time with their clubs upon the heads of maize. This is a very exciting amusement for the performers, who shout the noisy chorus at the highest pitch of their lungs, and beat time by striking their knob-kerries upon the grain. With every blow of the heavy club, the maize grains are struck from their husks, and fly about the hut in all directions, threatening injury, if not absolute destruction, to the eyes of all who are present in the hut. Yet the threshers appear to enjoy an immunity which seems to be restricted to themselves and blacksmiths; and while a stranger is anxiously shading his eyes from the shower of hard maize grains, the threshers themselves do not give a thought to the safety of their eyes, but sing at the top of their voice, pound away at the corn cobs, and make the grains fly in all directions, as if the chorus of the song were the chief object in life, and the preservation of their eyesight were unworthy of a thought.

After the maize has been thus separated from the husk, a large portion is hidden away in the subterranean granaries, which have already been mentioned, while a considerable quantity is placed in their large earthen jars for home consumption. In boiling meat, two pots are employed, one being used as a cover inverted over the other, and the two are luted tightly together so as to preserve the flavor of the meat. Except for the three purposes of preserving grain, cooking food, and boiling beer, the Kaffir seldom uses earthenware vessels, his light baskets answering every purpose, and being very much more convenient for handling.

From the preceding pages, the reader may form a tolerable idea of the habits and customs of the tribes which inhabit this portion of the world, and of whom one race has been selected as the typical example. Of the many other tribes but slight notice will be taken, and only the most salient points of their character will be mentioned. On the whole it will be seen that the life of a South African savage is not so repulsive as is often thought to be the case, and that, bating a few particulars, a Kaffir lives a tolerably happy and peaceful life. He is of course called upon to serve in the army for a certain time, but he shares this liability with inhabitants of most civilized nations, and when he returns after the campaign he is rewarded for good conduct by a step in social rank, and the means wherein to maintain it.

Domestic life has, of course, its drawbacks among savages as among civilized nations; and there are, perhaps, times when the gallant soldier, who has been rewarded with a wife or two for his courage in the field, wishes himself once more engaged on a war march. The natural consequence of the low esteem in which the women are[213] viewed, and the state of slavery in which they are held, is that they are apt to quarrel fiercely among themselves, and to vent upon each other any feelings of irritation that they are forced to suppress before their lords and masters.

Even among ourselves we see how this querulous spirit is developed in proportion to want of cultivation, and how, in the most degraded neighborhoods, a quarrel starts up between two women on the very slightest grounds, and spreads in all directions like fire in tow. So, in a Kaffir kraal, a couple of women get up a quarrel, and the contagion immediately spreads around. Every woman within hearing must needs take part in the quarrel, just like dogs when they hear their companions fighting, and the scene in the kraal becomes, as may be seen by the illustration No. 2, page 209, more lively than pleasant. Even this drawback to domestic life is not without its remedy, which generally takes the shape of a stick, so that the men, at least, pass tolerably tranquil lives. Their chief characteristics are the absolute power of their king, and their singular subservience to superstition; but, as they have never been accustomed to consider their lives or their property their own, they are quite happy under conditions which would make an Englishman miserable.

Any account of Southern Africa would be imperfect without a short description of one or two of the conspicuous trees, especially of the thorns which render the “bush” so impervious to an European, but which have no effect on the naked and well-oiled skin of a Kaffir. Frequently the traveller will pursue his journey for many days together, and will see scarcely a tree that does not possess thorns more or less formidable. These thorns may be roughly divided into two groups, namely, the straight and the hooked.

The straight thorns are produced by trees belonging to the great group of Acacias, in which Southern Africa is peculiarly rich. They are too numerous to be separately noticed, and it is only needful to say that the two chief representatives of this formidable tree are the Kameel-dorn (Acacia giraffæ) and the Karroo-dorn (Acacia Capensis). The former tree has sharp brown thorns, very thick and strong, and is remarkable for the fact that its pod does not open like that of most trees of the same group. It is called by the Dutch colonists the Kameel-dorn, because the giraffe, or kameel, grazes upon its delicate leaves; but its native name is Mokáala, and by that title it is known throughout the greater part of Southern Africa. The wood of the Kameel-dorn varies in color, being pale-red toward the circumference of the trunk, and deepening toward the centre into dark reddish-brown. The very heart of the tree, which is extremely heavy, and of a very dark color, is used in the manufacture of knob-kerries, and similar articles, the chief of which are the handles of the feather-headed sticks, which have already been mentioned in the chapter upon hunting. The tree is found almost exclusively on rich sandy plains where is little water.

The other species, which is known by the name of Karroo-dorn, or White-thorn, is generally found on the banks of rivers or water-courses, and is therefore a most valuable tree to the thirsty traveller, who always looks out for the Karroo-thorn tree, knowing that it is generally on the bank of some stream, or that by digging at its foot he may find water. The leaves of this tree are extremely plentiful; but they are of so small a size that the tree affords but very little shade, and the effect of the sunbeams passing through a thick clump of these trees is most singular. Several stems generally rise from the same root, and it is a remarkable fact that the older trees can easily be known by the dead branches, which snap across, and then fall downward, so that their tips rest on the ground, while at the point of fracture they are still attached to the tree. Insects, especially the wood-devouring beetles, are supposed to be the cause of this phenomenon, as the dead branches are always found to be perforated with their burrows.

Every branch and twig of this tree is covered with the sharp white thorns, which grow in pairs, and vary much in length, averaging generally from two to four inches. They are sometimes even seven inches in length; and deficiency in length is more than compensated by great thickness, one of them in some cases measuring nearly two inches in circumference. They are white in color, and are hollow, the thickness of their walls scarcely exceeding that of a quill. They are, however, exceedingly strong, and are most formidable impediments to any who encounter them. There is a story of a lion, which I could not bring myself to believe until I had seen these thorns, but which now seems perfectly credible. The lion had sprung at his prey, but had slipped in his spring, and fallen into a thorn-bush, where he lay impaled among the sharp spikes, and so died from the effects of his many wounds. If the bush had been composed of such thorns as those which have been described, it would have been a much more wonderful thing for him to have escaped than to have perished.

The danger, as well as annoyance, which is caused by these thorns may be imagined from an accident which befell one of Le Vaillant’s oxen. The animal happened to be driven against an acacia, and some of the thorns penetrated its breast, of course breaking into the wound. All those which could be seen were extracted with pincers; but several of them had broken beneath the[214] skin, and could not be touched. These caused so violent an inflammation that, after waiting for twenty-four hours in hopes of saving its life, it was found necessary to put it to death.

This thorn is very useful for various reasons. In the first place, its bark is employed in the manufacture of the strings with which the natives weave their mats together, and which they often use in tying together the flexible sticks which form the framework of their huts. From the thorns of the tree the young maidens form various ornaments, and with these thorns they decorate their heads, if they should not be fortunate enough to procure the quills of the porcupine for that purpose. Moreover, the dried wood makes an excellent fire, burning easily and rapidly, and throwing out a brisk and glowing, though rather transient heat.

Several of the acacias are useful as food-providers, the gum which exudes from them being eaten as a regular article of diet. The reader may remember that the poor Damara woman, who was left to die in the wilderness, was supplied with gum as an article of food. Several of the trees supply the gum in very large quantities. Mr. Burchell, the well-known traveller, thinks that the gum which exudes from these trees is so clear and good that it might largely take the place of the gum-arabic of commerce, and form as regular article of merchandise as the ivory, hides, and feathers, which form the staple of South African trade. “On the branches of these acacias, which have so great a resemblance to the true acacia of the ancients, or the tree which yields the gum-arabic, as to have been once considered the same species, I frequently saw large lumps of very good and clear gum.

“Wherever they had been wounded by the hatchets of the natives, there most commonly the gum exuded; and by some similar operations it is probable that the trees might, without destroying them, be made to produce annually a large crop. And if a computation could be made of the quantity that might be obtained from those trees only which line the banks of the Gariep and its branches, amounting to a line of wood (reckoning both sides) of more than two thousand miles, one would feel inclined to suppose that it might be worth while to teach and encourage the natives to collect it. This they certainly would be ready to do, if they heard that tobacco could always be obtained in exchange.

“But if to the acacias of the river are added the myriads which crowd almost every river in extra-tropical Southern Africa, or even between the Cape and the Gariep only, we may feel satisfied that there are trees enough to supply a quantity of this drug more than equal to the whole consumption of Great Britain. Of the productiveness of the Acacia Capensis as compared with that of the Acacia vera, I have no information that enables me to give an opinion; but with respect to the quality, I think we may venture to pronounce it to be in no way inferior.”

These are fair representatives of the straight-thorned plant of Southern Africa. The best example of the hook-thorned vegetation is that which is described by Burchell as the Grapple-plant; but it is better known by the expressive name of Hook-thorn. The scientific title of this plant is Uncaria procumbens, the former name being given to it on account of the hooks with which it is armed, and the latter to the mode in which it grows along the ground.

When in blossom, this is a singularly beautiful plant, the large flowers being of a rich purple hue, and producing a most lovely effect as they spread themselves over the ground, or hang in masses from the trees and shrubs. The long, trailing branches are furnished throughout their length with sharp barbed thorns, set in pairs. Unpleasant as are the branches, they become worse when the purple petals fall and the seed-vessels are developed. Then the experienced traveller dreads its presence, and, if he can do so, keeps clear of the ground which is tenanted by such a foe. The large seed-vessels are covered with a multitude of sharp and very strong hooked thorns. When the seed is ripe, the vessel splits along the middle, and the two sides separate widely from each other, so that they form an array of hooks which reminds the observer of the complicated devices used by anglers in pike-fishing. The illustration No. 1, on page 247, represents a still closed seed-vessel, and, formidable as it looks, its powers are more than doubled when it is open and dry, each half being covered with thorns pointing in opposite directions. The thorns are as sharp as needles, and nearly as strong as if they were made of the same material.

The reader may easily imagine the horrors of a bush which is beset with such weapons. No one who wears clothes has a chance of escape from them. If only one hooked thorn catches but his coat-sleeve, he is a prisoner at once. The first movement bends the long, slender branches, and hook after hook fixes its point upon him. Struggling only trebles the number of his thorned enemies, and the only mode by which he can free himself is to “wait-a-bit,” cut off the clinging seed-vessels, and, when he is clear of the bush, remove them one by one. This terrible plant was most fatal to the English soldiers in the last Kaffir wars, the unwieldy accoutrements and loose clothing of the soldier being seized by the thorns, and holding the unfortunate man fast, while the naked Kaffir could glide among the thorns unharmed, and deliver his assagai with impunity. If the reader would like to form an idea of the power of these thorns,[215] he can do so by thrusting his arm into the middle of a thick rose-bush, and mentally multiplying the number of thorns by a hundred, and their size by fifty. In shape the thorns have a singular resemblance to the fore-claws of the lion, and they certainly, though inanimate, are scarcely less efficacious.

There is one of the acacia tribe (Acacia detinens) which is nearly as bad in its way as the grapple-plant. In Burchell’s “Travels” there is a very good account of this shrub, which is known to the colonists by the title of Vacht-een-bidgt, or Wait-a-bit thorn. “The largest shrubs were about five feet high—a plant quite unknown to me, but well known to the Klaarwater people... and is the same thorny bush which gave us so much annoyance the night before, where it was above seven feet high.

“I was preparing to cut some specimens of it, which the Hottentots observing, warned me to be very careful in doing so, otherwise I should be certainly caught fast in its branches. In consequence of this advice. I proceeded with the utmost caution; but, with all my care, a small twig got hold of one sleeve. While thinking to disengage it quietly with the other hand, both arms were seized by these rapacious thorns; and the more I tried to extricate myself, the more entangled I became; till at last it seized my hat also, and convinced me that there was no possibility for me to free myself but by main force, and at the expense of tearing all my clothes. I therefore called out for help, and two of my men came and released me by cutting off the branches by which I was held. In revenge for the ill-treatment, I determined to give to the tree a name which should serve to caution future travellers against allowing themselves to venture within its clutches.” The monitory name to which allusion has been made is that of detinens as applied to that particular species of acacia.

Besides these plants, there is one which deserves a brief mention, on account of its remarkable conformation. This is the Three-thorn, a species of Rhigozum, which is very common in parts of Southern Africa. It is a low shrub, somewhere about three or four feet in height, and its branches divide very regularly into threes, giving it a quaint and altogether singular aspect. There is another remarkable species, called the Haak-en-steek, or the Hook-and-prick thorn. In this species the thorns are very curiously arranged. First comes a short, hooked thorn; and if the traveller contrives to be caught by this hook, and tries to pull himself away, he forces down upon himself a pair of long, straight thorns, two inches in length, and as sharp as needles.

It will be seen that the variety of thorns which beset the traveller is very great indeed. Dr. Kirk ingeniously divides them into three classes, namely, those which tear the flesh, those which tear the clothes, and those which tear both—this last class being by far the largest.

The reader may remember that the “Stink-wood” has occasionally been mentioned. This same tree with the unsavory name seems to have been rather neglected, if we may believe the account written by Le Vaillant nearly a century ago. He remarks of this tree, that it grows plentifully in several parts of Southern Africa, and is found near Algoa Bay, whence it is transported to the Cape, and there used in the manufacture of furniture. The tree is a very slow-growing one, and, like such trees, produces wood of a very hard texture. When freshly cut it is pale, but after the lapse of time it gradually darkens into a rich chestnut varied with black. Like the hard woods, it is susceptible of a very high polish, and possesses besides the invaluable property of being free from worms, which seem to perceive even in the dried wood the unpleasant odor which distinguishes it when green. In general look and mode of growth this tree much resembles the oak of our own country.

When a traveller first enters a South African forest, he is rather surprised by two circumstances; the first being that the trees do not surpass in size those which grace an ordinary English copse, and that in many cases they are far inferior both in size and beauty. The next point that strikes his attention is, the vast number of creepers which spread their slender branches from tree to tree, and which, in some instances, envelope the supporting tree so completely that they wholly hide it from view. They have the faculty of running up the trunks of trees, pushing their branches to the very extremity of the boughs, and then letting drop their slender filaments, that are caught by lower boughs and hang in festoons from them. At first the filaments are scarcely stronger than packthread, but by degrees they become thicker and thicker, until they are as large as a man’s arm. These creepers multiply in such profusion that they become in many places the chief features of the scenery, all the trees being bound together by the festoons of creepers which hang from branch to branch.

The Dutch settlers call them by the name of Bavians-tow, or Baboon-ropes, because the baboons and monkeys clamber by means of them to the extremities of the branches where the fruit grows. The scientific name for the plant is Cynanchum obtusifolium. The natives, ever watchful for their own interests, make great use of these creepers, and the Kaffirs use them largely in lashing together the various portions of their huts. The fruit of the Bavians-tow is only found at the extremity of the branches, where the[216] young filaments shoot out. When ripe it is something like a cherry, and is of a bright crimson color. It goes by the popular name of “wild grape,” and is much liked by monkeys, birds, and men. From the fruit a kind of spirit is distilled, and a very good preserve can be made from it.

These baboon-ropes are not the only parasitic growths upon trees. In many parts of the country there is a kind of long, fibrous moss which grows upon the trees, and is often in such profusion that it completely covers them, hiding not only the trunk and branches, but even the twigs and leafage. This mossy growth extends to a considerable length, in some cases attaining as much as ten or twelve feet. It is yellow in color, and when short is very soft and fine, so that it can be used for most of the purposes to which cotton or tow are applied. But, when it reaches the length of six or seven feet, it becomes hard and wiry, and is comparatively useless. I have now before me a quantity of this tow-like lichen, which had been used in packing a large box full of Kaffir weapons and implements. There is a tree which furnishes a very useful timber, called from its color, “Geele-hout,” a yellow wood. This tree is a species of Taxus, but there are at least two species which produce the wood. The timber is much used for beams, planks, and building purposes generally.

Many travellers have thought that these and several other trees would form valuable articles of merchandise, and that they might be profitably imported to Europe. That they afford really valuable woods, and that some of them would be extremely useful in delicate and fancy work, is indisputable. The only difficulty is, that to cut and transport them at present involves so much expense that the arrangement would hardly be sufficiently profitable for the investment of so much capital.




Before proceeding with the general view of the remaining tribes which inhabit Africa, it will be necessary to give a few pages to the remarkable race which has lived for so long in close contact with the Kaffir tribes, and which presents the curious phenomenon of a pale race living in the same land with a black race, and yet having preserved its individuality. About three centuries ago, the whole of Southern Africa was inhabited by various tribes belonging to a large and powerful nation. This nation, now known collectively under the name of Hottentot, was at that time the owner and master of the land, of which it had held possession for a considerable period. Whether or not the Hottentots were the aboriginal inhabitants of Southern Africa, is rather doubtful; but the probability is, that they came from a distant source, and that they dispossessed the aborigines, exactly as they themselves were afterward ejected by the Kaffirs, and the Kaffirs supplanted by the Europeans.

The Hottentots have a deadly and almost instinctive hatred of the Kaffir race. The origin of this feeling is evidently attributable to the successive defeats which they suffered at the hands of the Kaffirs, and caused them to be merely tolerated inhabitants of a land in which they were formerly the masters. The parents have handed down this antipathy to their children, and, as is often the case, it seems to have grown stronger in each generation, so that the semi-civilized Hottentot of the present day, though speaking the European language, and wearing European clothing, hates the Kaffirs as cordially as did his wild ancestors, and cannot even mention their name without prefixing some opprobrious epithet.

In consequence of this feeling, the Hottentot is an invaluable cow-herd, in a land where Kaffirs are professional cow-stealers. He seems to detect the presence of a Kaffir almost by intuition, and even on a dark night, when the dusky body of the robber can hardly be seen, he will discover the thief, work his stealthy way toward him, and kill him noiselessly with a single blow. In the late South African war, the Hottentots became most useful allies. They were docile, easily disciplined, and were simply invaluable in bush-fighting, where the English soldier, with all his apparatus of belts and accoutrements, was utterly useless.

It is rather a remarkable fact that, in every country into which the English have carried their arms, the natives have become the best allies against their own countrymen, and have rendered services without which the English could scarcely have kept their footing. No one can track up and capture the Australian native rebel so effectually as a native policeman. The native African assists them against those who at[218] all events inhabit the same land, though they may not happen to belong to the same race. The natives of China gave them great assistance in the late Chinese war, and the services which were rendered them by native forces during the great Indian mutiny can hardly be overrated.

However much the Hottentot may dislike the Kaffir, the feeling of antagonism is reciprocal, and the vindictive hatred borne by the defeated race toward their conquerors is scarcely less intense than the contemptuous repugnance felt by the victors toward the vanquished.

Neither in color nor general aspect do the Hottentots resemble the dark races around them. Their complexion is sallow, and much like that of a very dark person suffering from jaundice. Indeed, the complexion of the Hottentots much resembles that of the Chinese, and the general similitude between the two nations is very remarkable. (See page 224.) One of my friends who lived long in South Africa had a driver who dressed like a Hottentot, and who, to all appearance, was a Hottentot. One day, however, he astonished his master by declaring himself a Chinese, and proving the assertion by removing his hat and showing the long pig-tail twisted round his head. He was, in fact, a Chinese Coolie, who had been imported into Southern Africa, and who, after the fashion of his people, had accommodated himself to the manners and customs of those among whom he lived. Mr. Moffatt, the missionary author, mentions that he saw two Chinese children, whom he would have taken for Hottentots had he not been informed of their true character.

The existence of this light-colored race in such a locality affords a good proof that complexion is not entirely caused by the sun. There is a very popular idea that the hot sun of tropical countries produces the black color of the negro and other races, and that a low temperature bleaches the skin. Yet we have the Hottentots and their kindred tribes exhibiting pale skins in a country close to the tropics, while the Esquimaux, who live amid eternal ice, are often so dark that they might almost be mistaken for negroes, but for the conformation of their faces and the length of their hair.

The shape of the Hottentot face is very peculiar, as may be seen by reference to any engravings which illustrate scenes in Hottentot life. The cheek-bones project sharply from the face, and the long chin is narrow and pointed. These characteristics are not so visible in youth, but seem to grow stronger with age. Indeed, an old Hottentot, whether man or woman, seems to have scarcely any real face, but to be furnished with a mere skin drawn tightly over the skull.

What were the manners and customs of the Hottentots before they were dispossessed by the Kaffirs, or deteriorated by contact with bad specimens of European civilization, is extremely difficult to say, as no trustworthy historian of their domestic economy has lived among them. Kolben, whose book of travels has long been accepted as giving a true account of the Hottentot, is now known to be utterly unworthy of belief, insomuch as his information is second-hand, and those from whom he obtained it have evidently amused themselves by imposing upon his credulity.

As this work treats only of the normal habits and customs of the various parts of the world, and has nothing to do with the modifications of civilization, the account of the Hottentot will be necessarily brief.

In shape the Hottentots alter strangely according to their age. When children, they are not at all agreeable objects—at least, to an unaccustomed eye, being thin in the limbs, with an oddly projecting stomach, and a corresponding fall in the back. If tolerably well fed, they lose this strange shape when they approach the period of youth, and as young men and girls are almost models of perfection in form, though their faces are not entitled to as much praise. But they do not retain this beauty of form for any long period, some few years generally comprehending its beginning and its end. “In five or six years after their arrival at womanhood”, writes Burchell, “the fresh plumpness of youth has already given way to the wrinkles of age; and, unless we viewed them with the eye of commiseration and philanthropy, we should be inclined to pronounce them the most disgusting of human beings.” Their early, and, it may be said, premature symptoms of age, may perhaps, with much probability, be ascribed to a hard life, an uncertain and irregular supply of food, exposure to every inclemency of weather, and a want of cleanliness, which increases with years. These, rather than the nature of the climate, are the causes of this quick fading and decay of the bloom and grace of youth.

The appearance of an ordinary Hottentot woman can be seen by reference to the illustration No. 2, opposite, taken from a sketch by the author whose words have just been quoted. The subject of the drawing looks as if she were sixty years old at the very least, though, on account of the early deterioration of form, she might be of any age from twenty-seven upward. It is hardly possible to conceive that so short a period would change the graceful form of the Hottentot girl, as shown on the same page, into the withered and wrinkled hag who is here depicted, but such is really the case, and the strangest part is, that it is scarcely possible to tell whether a woman is thirty or sixty years of age by her looks alone.


(See page 222.)

(See page 218.)


Not the least remarkable point in the Hottentot women is the singular modification of form to which they are often, though not universally, subject—a development of which the celebrated “Hottentot Venus” afforded an excellent example. A very amusing description of one of these women is given by Mr. Galton, in his well-known work on Southern Africa:—

“Mr. Hahn’s household was large. There was an interpreter and a sub-interpreter, and again others, but all most excellently well-behaved, and showing to great advantage the influence of their master. These servants were chiefly Hottentots, who had migrated with Mr. Hahn from Hottentotland, and, like him, had picked up the language of the Damaras. The sub-interpreter was married to a charming person, not only a Hottentot in figure, but in that respect a Venus among Hottentots. I was perfectly aghast at her development, and made inquiries upon that delicate point as far as I dared among my missionary friends. The result is, that I believe Mrs. Petrus to be the lady who ranks second among all the Hottentots for the beautiful outline that her back affords, Jonker’s wife ranking as the first; the latter, however, was slightly passée, while Mrs. Petrus was in full embonpoint.

“I profess to be a scientific man, and was exceedingly anxious to obtain accurate measurement of her shape; but there was a difficulty in doing this. I did not know a word of Hottentot, and could never, therefore, explain to the lady what the object of my foot-rule could be; and I really dared not ask my worthy missionary host to interpret for me. I therefore felt in a dilemma as I gazed at her form, that gift of bounteous nature to this favored race, which no mantua-maker, with all her crinoline and stuffing, can do otherwise than humbly imitate. The object of my admiration stood under a tree, and was turning herself about to all points of the compass, as ladies who wish to be admired usually do. Of a sudden my eye fell upon my sextant; the bright thought struck me, and I took a series of observations upon her figure in every direction, up and down, crossways, diagonally, and so forth, and I registered them carefully upon an outline drawing for fear of any mistake. This being done, I boldly pulled out my measuring tape, and measured the distance from where I was to the place where she stood, and, having thus obtained both base and angles, I worked out the result by trigonometry and logarithms.”

This remarkable protuberance, which shakes like jelly at every movement of the body, is not soft as might be imagined, but firm and hard. Mr. Christie, who is rather above the middle size, tells us that he has sometimes stood upon it without being supported by any other part of the person. The scientific name for this curious development is Steatopyga. It does not cause the least inconvenience, and the women find it rather convenient as affording a support whenever they wish to carry an infant.

Another peculiarity in this curious race is the manner in which the hair grows on the head. Like that of the negroes it is short, crisp, and woolly, but it possesses the peculiarity of not covering the entire head, but growing in little patches, each about as large as a pea. These patches are quite distinct, and in many instances are scattered so sparingly over the head, that the skin can be plainly seen between them. Perhaps this odd growth of the hair affords a reason for the universal custom of wearing a cap, and of covering the head thickly with grease and mineral powder. The original manners and customs of the Hottentots have entirely vanished, and, unlike the fiercer and nobler Kaffir tribes, they have merged their own individuality in that of the white settlers. They always dress in European apparel, but it has been noticed by those who have lived in the country, that the Hottentot, though fully clothed, is far less modest in appearance than the Kaffir, who wears scarcely any clothing at all. In this point seems to be one of the great distinctions between the Hottentot and other races. It is quite true that Le Vaillant and travellers antecedent to him have written of the Hottentots in the most glowing terms, attributing to them almost every virtue that uncivilized man is likely to possess, and praising them for the absence of many vices that disgrace civilized humanity.

Now, the fact is, that Le Vaillant was evidently a man of exceptional abilities in the management of inferiors, and that he possessed an intuitive knowledge of character that is very seldom to be found. Consequently the men who were submissive, docile, and affectionate under his firm, yet determined sway, might have been captious, idle, and insubordinate under a less judicious leader. They looked upon him as a being infinitely superior to themselves, untouched by the impulsive and unreasoning motives by which these children of nature are led, and in consequence yielded to the subtle and all-powerful influence which a higher nature exercises over a lower.

The Hottentots with whom our author came in contact were free from the many vices which degrade the Hottentot of the present day, but it is clear that they were innocent simply because they were ignorant. Those of the present time have lost all their ancient simplicity, and have contrived to imbue themselves with the vices in which the advent of the white men enabled them to indulge, without at the same time improving their intellectual or social condition.

We will now endeavor to see the Hottentot as he used to be before he was conquered by the Kaffirs, and reduced to servitude by the European colonists.

The general appearance of the Hottentot may be seen by reference to the illustration No. 2, opposite, which represents a young man named Klaas, who was the favorite attendant of Le Vaillant, and of whom the traveller speaks in the highest terms. He has, therefore, been selected as a favorable specimen of his nation. The reader will understand that in the following account of the Hottentot tribes, they are described as they used to be, and not as they are at the present day.

The ordinary dress of a Hottentot man can be tolerably imagined from the portrait of Klaas. Over his shoulder is thrown a large mantle, or kaross, made of cow-hide tanned and softened, and worn with the fur inward. This mantle is most in fashion, and when engaged in his ordinary occupations the Hottentot throws it off, so as to be unencumbered. Around his waist are a number of leathern thongs, mingled with strings of beads and other ornaments, and to one of these thongs are fastened two aprons, one in front and the other behind. That one in front is called the “jackal,” because it is generally made of a piece of jackal skin or similar fur. The second apron, if it may be so named, is not universally worn, though a Hottentot of taste does not consider himself dressed without it. It is simply a triangular flap of leather, barely a foot in length, two inches in width at the top, where it joins the girdle, and widening to four inches at the bottom. This curious appendage is ornamented with bits of metal, steel, beads, and other decorations, and the owner seems to take a great pride in this odd article of dress. Of course it is not of the least use, and may be compared to the tails of a modern dress-coat, or the bag attached to the collar of a court suit.

Some families among the Hottentots vary the shape of the “staart-rheim,” as the Dutch colonists call it, and make it of different forms. Some have it square, and others circular or oblong, while some, who are possessed of more than ordinary ingenuity, make it into the form of a crescent or a cross. This article of dress still survives among some of the African tribes, as will be seen on a future page.

Round the ankles are fastened thongs of hide. These articles gave rise to the absurd statement that Hottentots wore the intestines of animals until they became softened by putridity, and then ate them, carefully keeping up the supply by adding fresh thongs in the place of those which were eaten. The real fact is, that these leathern bands act as a defence against the thorns among which the Hottentots have to walk, and for that purpose they are used by both sexes. It is true that, in some cases, the wearers have been reduced to such a state[222] of starvation that they have been obliged to eat the hide circlets from their limbs, and eat them with the aid of what rude cooking could be extemporized. But it will be remarked that the Kaffir soldiers have been reduced to eat their shields and the leathern thongs which bound the assagai-heads to the shaft, and no one would therefrom infer that the Kaffirs made their shields an ordinary article of diet.

The feet are protected from sharp stones and thorns by a simple kind of shoe, or sandal, which is little more than a piece of stout leather, larger than the sole of the foot, and tied on by thongs. The feet of the card-players, on page 237, show this sandal. It is not worn, however, when the Hottentot is engaged in his ordinary vocations, and is only employed when he is on a journey, and the ground which he has to traverse is exceptionally rough and thorny. These sandals are in use throughout a large portion of Southern Africa, and the best are made by the Bachapins, a sub-tribe of the Bechuanas.

The dress of the women is essentially the same as that of the men, although it is more complicated, and there is more of it. As is the case with the Kaffir, the children of both sexes wear no clothing at all until they are eight or nine years old, and then the girls assume the little leathern apron called the “makkâbi.” This portion of dress is somewhat similar to that which is worn by the Kaffir girls, and is simply a flat piece of leather cut into thin strips. The thongs are generally longer than those worn by the Kaffir, and sometimes reach nearly to the knee. Over this is sometimes, but not universally, worn a second apron of skin, ornamented with beads, bits of shining metal, and similar decorations. The beads are arranged in patterns, an idea of which can be gained from the illustration No. 1, page 219, which represents a Gonaqua Hottentot girl, about sixteen years of age. This girl was a special favorite of Le Vaillant’s, and certainly seems from his account to have been a singularly favorable instance of unsophisticated human nature. The attitude in which she is depicted is a very characteristic one, being that which the Hottentot girls are in the habit of assuming. It is remarkable, by the way, that the pleasing liveliness for which the Hottentot youth are notable departs together with youth, the demeanor of the men and women being sedate and almost gloomy.

Around the loins is fastened a much larger apron without any decoration. This is of variable size and shape, but the usual form is that which is shown in the illustration. Its name is “musesi,” and, like the “staart-rheim” of the men, is not thought to be a necessary article of clothing, being put on more for ceremony than for use. This apron is also variable in size, sometimes being so long as nearly to touch the ground, and sometimes barely reaching to the knee. The Dutch settlers called these aprons the “fore-kaross,” and “hind-kaross,” words which sufficiently explain themselves.


(See page 218.)

(See page 222.)


The leather thongs which encircle the leg are mostly ornamented with wire twisted round them, and sometimes a woman will wear on her legs one or two rings entirely composed of wire. Sometimes there are so many of these rings that the leg is covered with them as high as the knee, while in a few instances four or five rings are even worn above the knee, and must be extremely inconvenient to the wearer. Beads of various colors are also worn profusely, sometimes strung together on wire, and hung round the neck, waist, wrists, and ankles, and sometimes sewed upon different articles of apparel.

Before beads were introduced from Europe, the natives had a very ingenious method of making ornaments, and, even after the introduction of beads, the native ornament was much prized. It was made by laboriously cutting ostrich shells into thin circular disks, varying in size from the sixth of an inch to nearly half an inch in diameter, and pierced through the middle. Many hundreds of these disks are closely strung together, so as to form a sort of circular rope, white as if made of ivory. Sometimes this rope is long enough to pass several times round the body, against which the shining white disks produced a very good effect.

Burchell mentions a curious kind of ornament which was worn by a young Hottentot girl, and which seemed to be greatly prized by her. It consisted of three pieces of ivory about the size and shape of sparrow’s eggs, each tied to the end of a thong, and so arranged that one of them hung over the nose and another on each cheek. As she moved her head in conversation these ivory beads swung about from side to side, and in her estimation produced a very telling effect. I have in my collection a good specimen of a similar frontlet. It consists of a leathern thong three feet in length, at each end of which is a cowrie shell. One foot in length of its centre is composed of a double row of the ostrich egg-rope which has just been described, so that, when the frontlet is tied on the head, the white egg-shell ropes cross the forehead. From the exact centre fall six short thongs, at the end of each of which is an ornament of pearly-shell or tortoise-shell. Four of these thongs are covered with native beads, made from the bone of the ostrich, and are further ornamented with a large scarlet seed in the middle. At each end of the egg-shell rope are two shell-clad thongs, exactly like those which have been described, and, when the frontlet is in its place, these ornaments hang upon each cheek. The illustration No. 5 upon page 247 shows the frontlet as it appears when bound upon the head of a Hottentot belle.

The dress of the married woman is, of course, more elaborate than that of the young girl. Although they sometimes appear with a very slight costume, they usually prefer to be tolerably well clad. With married women both the aprons are larger than with the girls, and they wear besides a shorter apron over the breast. Their kaross, too, is of comparatively large size. The Hottentot females always wear a cap of some kind, the usual material being leather, which is dressed in the same manner as the skin of which the kaross and the aprons are made.

The hair is plentifully imbued with grease, in which has been mixed a quantity of the metallic powder of which the Hottentots are immoderately fond, and which is called by the Dutch colonists “Black-klip,” or Shining Rock, on account of its glittering appearance. The natives call it by the name of Sibilo. which is pronounced as if it were written Sibeelo. The sibilo is extremely local, being only known to exist in one part of Africa, and is dug from a rock called Sensavan. It seems to be a very friable kind of iron ore, plentifully interspersed with minute particles of mica, the union of these two substances giving it the appearance which is so much admired by the natives. This substance is a “shining, powdery iron ore, of a steel-gray or bluish lustre, soft and greasy to the touch, its particles adhering to the hands or clothes, and staining them of a dark-red or ferruginous lustre. The skin is not easily freed from these glossy particles, even by repeated washings, and whenever this substance is used everything becomes contaminated, and its glittering nature betrays it on every article which the wearer handles.” Burchell goes on to say that oxidization gives to the iron ore that peculiar rust-red of which the Hottentots are so fond, while the micaceous particles impart to it that sparkling glitter which is scarcely less prized.

To the Sensavan rock come all the surrounding tribes for a supply of this precious substance, and those who are nearest are in the habit of digging it, and using it as a means of barter with more distant tribes. By degrees the rock has been quarried so deeply that a series of caverns have been worked into it, some penetrating for a considerable distance. Burchell relates an anecdote of a party of Hottentots who were engaged in digging the sibilo, and who were overwhelmed by the fall of the cavern in which they were working. The various caverns are never without inhabitants, for by day they are full of bats, and by night they form the resting-place of pigeons.

Besides the sibilo, another substance called Buchu is in universal use among the Hottentots. This is also a powder, but it is[226] of vegetable, and not of mineral origin. It is not nearly as valuable as the sibilo, although considered to be nearly as necessary an article of adornment, so that any one who is not bedaubed with sibilo, and perfumed with buchu, is considered unworthy of entrance into polite society. Sibilo, as the reader may remember, is to be obtained only from one spot, and is therefore a peculiarly valuable material, whereas the buchu can be obtained from several sources, and is accordingly held in lower esteem.

Buchu (pronounced Bookoo) is mostly obtained from a species of Diosma, and is made by reducing the plant to a powder. It possesses a strong odor, which to the nostrils of a Hottentot is extremely agreeable, but which has exactly the opposite effect upon the more sensitive organs of an European. When a number of Hottentots are assembled in one of their rude huts, the odor of the buchu, with which the karosses as well as the hair of the natives are plentifully imbued, is so exceedingly powerful, that no one except a native can breathe in such an atmosphere. The Hottentots have a wonderful veneration for this plant, and use it for various purposes. It is thought to form an admirable application to a wound, and for this purpose the leaves of the plant are infused in strong vinegar, and are generally steeped for so long a time that they form a kind of mucilage.

There are several species of plants from which the indispensable buchu is made, and one of them is a kind of fragrant croton, named by Burchell Croton gratissimum, from its pleasant aromatic odor. It is a handsome bushy shrub, from four to seven feet in height. Both flowers and leaves possess an agreeable scent, and the buchu is made by drying and pounding the latter, which are lance-shaped, green above, and whitish below. The powder is used as a perfume, which to the nostrils of the Hottentot is highly agreeable, but to the European is simply abominable, especially when mingled with the odor of rancid grease and long-worn skin dresses.

Skins are prepared in some places after a different manner to that which has been described when treating of the Kaffirs, and undergo a kind of tanning process. When a Hottentot, wishes to make a leathern robe, or other article of dress, he deprives the skin of its hair by rolling it up with the furry side inward, and allowing it to undergo a partial putrefaction. In the mean while he prepares his tanning-vat, by fixing four stakes into the ground, connecting their tops with cross-bars, and lashing a tolerably large hide loosely to them, so as to form a rude kind of basin or tub. A quantity of the astringent bark of the karroo thorn is placed in the vat together with the skin, and a sufficient quantity of ley is poured over them until the vessel is full. The bark of this acacia not only possesses a powerful tanning principle, but at the same time imparts to the leather that reddish hue which is so much admired by Hottentots, and which is afterward heightened by the sibilo and buchu which are rubbed upon it.

Mr. Baines is, however, of opinion that this mode of preparing skins, primitive as it may appear, is not the invention of the Hottentot race, but is due to the superiority of the white settlers. The tanning-vat of hide appears simple enough to have been invented by a savage race, but, as it is only used near European settlements, the idea has probably been borrowed by the Hottentots. In places remote from the white settlers, and where their influence is not felt, the Hottentots do not tan the hides by steeping them in ley, but prepare them by manual labor in a manner somewhat similar to that which is used by the Kaffir. When a large cow-hide is to be prepared, several men take part in the proceeding, and make quite a festival of it. They sit in a circle, with the hide in their midst, and work it with their hands, occasionally rubbing in some butter or other grease. They sing songs the while, and at regular intervals they grasp the hide with both hands, and give it a violent pull outward, so as to stretch it equally in every direction.

The cord or string of which the Hottentots make so much use is twisted in a very simple manner. The bark of the ever-useful acacia is stripped from the branches, and divided into fibres by being steeped in water, and then pounded between two stones. Sometimes the rope-maker prefers to separate the fibres by chewing the bark, which is thought to have an agreeable flavor. When a sufficient quantity of fibre has been prepared, the workwoman seats herself on the ground, takes two yarns of fibre, and rolls them with the palm of her hand upon the thigh. She then brings them together, gives them a quick roll in the opposite direction, and thus makes a two-stranded rope with a rapidity that could hardly be conceived, seeing that no tools of any kind are used. If any of my readers should happen to be skilled in nautical affairs, they will see that this two-stranded rope made by the Hottentots is formed on exactly the same principle as the “knittles” which are so important in many of the nautical knots and splices.

Rope-making is entirely a woman’s business, and is not an agreeable one. Probably it is remitted to the women for that very reason. The friction of the rope against the skin is apt to abrade it, and makes it so sore that the women are obliged to relieve themselves by rolling the rope upon the calf of the leg instead of the thigh, and by the time that the injured portion has recovered the other is sore; and so the poor women have to continue their work, alternating[227] between one portion and another, until by long practice the skin becomes quite hard, and can endure the friction without being injured by it.

Among all the tribes of Southern Africa the taste for hide ropes is universal. Ropes of some kind are absolutely necessary in any country, and in this part of the world, as well as in some others, ropes made of hide are very much preferred to those which are formed from any other material. The reason for this preference is evidently owing to the peculiarities of the country. There are plenty of fibrous plants in Southern Africa which would furnish ropes quite equal to those which are in use in Europe, but ropes formed of vegetable fibre are found to be unsuitable to the climate, and, as a natural consequence, they have been abandoned even by European colonists.

The mode of preparing the hide ropes varies but little, except in unimportant details, and is briefly as follows:—The first process is to prepare a vessel full of ley, which is made by steeping the ashes of several plants, known under the generic title of Salsola. The young shoots of these plants are collected for the purpose, burned, and the ashes carefully collected. When an ox is killed, the hide is cut into narrow strips, and these strips are placed in the tub of ley and allowed to soak for some four-and-twenty hours. At the expiration of that time, a sufficient number of the strips are joined together, loosely twisted, and passed over the horizontal branch of a tree, a heavy weight being suspended from each end, so as to keep the thongs always on the stretch. A couple of natives then set to work, one stationing himself at each end of the rope, and twisting it by means of a short stick passed between the strands, while by the aid of the sticks they drag the rope backward and forward over the bough, never allowing it to rest on the same spot for any length of time, and always twisting the sticks in opposite directions. The natural consequence is, that the rope becomes very pliant, and at the same time is equally stretched throughout its length, the regularity of the twist depending on the skill of the two rope-makers. No other treatment is required, as the powerful liquid in which the raw thongs have been steeped enacts the part of the tanning “fat,” and the continually dragging over the branch serves to make it pliant, and to avoid the danger of “kinking.”

The use of the rope among the European settlers affords a good example of the reaction that takes place when a superior race mingles with an inferior. The white men have taught the aborigines many useful arts, but at the same time have been obliged to them for instruction in many others, without which they could not maintain their hold of the country. The reader will notice that the hide ropes are made by men, because they are formed from that noble animal, the ox, whereas ropes made of ignoble vegetable fibre are handed over to the women.

A remarkable substitute for a spoon is used by this people. It consists of the stem of a fibrous plant, called Umphombo, and is made in the following manner. The stem, which is flattish, and about an inch in width, is cut into suitable lengths and soaked in water. It is then beaten between two stones, until the fibres separate from each other, so as to form a sort of brush. This is dipped in the liquid, and conveys a tolerable portion to the mouth. The mention of this brush-spoon recalls a curious method of catching flies. The reader may remember that in Southern Africa, as well as in other hot parts of the world, the flies are so numerous as to become a veritable plague. They come in swarms into the houses, and settle upon every article of food, so that the newly-arrived traveller scarcely knows how to eat his meals. Being thirsty creatures, they especially affect any liquid, and will plunge into the cup while its owner is in the act of drinking. The natives contrive to lessen this evil, though they cannot entirely rid themselves of it, and mostly do so by the following ingenious contrivance:—

They first shut the doors of the hut, and then dip a large wisp of hay in milk, and hang it to the roof. All the flies are attracted to it, and in a few seconds nothing can be seen but a large, seething mass of living creatures. A bag is then gently passed over them, and a smart shake given to the trap, which causes all the flies to fall in a mass to the bottom of the bag. The bag is then removed, so as to allow a fresh company of flies to settle on the hay wisp, and by the time that the first batch of flies is killed, another is ready for immolation. Sometimes nearly a bushel of flies will be thus taken in a day. It is most likely that the natives were led to this invention by seeing the flies cluster round their brush-spoons when they had been laid aside after use.

In some parts of the country, the flies are captured by means of the branches of a bush belonging to the genus Roridula. This is covered with a glutinous secretion, and, whenever the flies settle upon it, they are held fast and cannot escape. Branches of this useful plant are placed in different parts of the hut, and are very effective in clearing it of the little pests. Many of these flies are identical with the common house-fly of England, but there are many other species indigenous to the country.

The Hottentot is a tolerably good carver in wood, not because he has much idea of art, but because he has illimitable patience, and not the least idea of the value of time. Bowls and jars are carved from wood,[228] mostly that of the willow tree, and the carver prefers to work while the sap is still in the wood. A kind of willow grows by the water-side, as is the case in this country, and this is cut down with the odd little hatchets which are used in this part of the world. These hatchets are made on exactly the same principle as the hoes which have been so often mentioned, and which are represented on page 57. The head, however, is very much smaller, and the blade is set in a line with the handle instead of transversely. They are so small and feeble, that the labor of several men is required to cut down a tree only eighteen inches or so in diameter; and the work which an American axeman would complete in a few minutes occupies them a day or two. When the trunk has been at last severed, it is cut into convenient lengths by the same laborious process, and the different portions are mostly shaped by the same axe. If a bowl is the article to be made, it is partly hollowed by the axe, and the remainder of the work is done with a knife bent into a hook-like shape. These bowls are, on the average, a foot or eighteen inches in diameter.

Making bowls is a comparatively simple business, but the carving of a jar is a most laborious task. In making jars, the carver is forced to depend almost entirely upon the bent knife, and from the shape of the article it is evident that, when it is hollowed, the carver must work in a very constrained manner. Still, as time is of no value, the jar is at last completed, and, like the bowl, is well rubbed with fat, in order to prevent it from splitting. Generally, these jars hold about a gallon, but some of them are barely a quarter of that size, while others are large enough to contain five gallons. An European, with similar tools, would not be able to make the smaller sizes of these jars, as he would not be able to pass his hand into the interior. The hand of the Hottentot is, however, so small and delicate, that he finds no difficulty in the task. The jar is called Bambus in the Hottentot language.

Unlike the Kaffirs, the Hottentots are rather a nomad race, and their huts are so made that they can be taken to pieces and packed for transportation in less than an hour, while a couple of hours’ labor is all that is required for putting them up afresh, even when the architect works as deliberately as is always the case among uncivilized natives. Consequently, when a horde of Hottentots travels from one place to another, a village seems to spring up almost as if by magic, and travellers who have taken many Hottentots in their train have been very much astonished at the sudden transformation of the scene.

In general construction, the huts are made on the same principle as those of the Kaffir, being formed of a cage-like framework, covered with lighter material. A Hottentot kraal is illustrated opposite. The Kaffir, however, interweaves the withes and reeds of which the hut is made among the framework, and binds them together with ropes, when, if he is going to settle determinately in one spot, or if he builds a hut in a well-established kraal, he plasters the interior with clay, so as to make the structure firm and impervious to weather. The Hottentot, on the contrary, covers his hut with reed mats, which look very much like the sleeping-mats of the Kaffirs, and can be easily lashed to the framework, and as easily removed. These mats are made of two species of reed, one of which is soft, and can be easily manipulated, while the other is hard, and gives some trouble to the maker. But the former has the disadvantage of being very liable to decay, and of lasting but a short time, whereas the latter is remarkable for its powers of endurance. These plants are called respectively the Soft Reed and the Hard Reed, and their scientific titles are Cyperus textilis and Scriptus tegetalis.

The method of making the mats is somewhat similar to that which is employed by the Kaffirs. The reeds are cut so as to measure six feet in length, and are placed in a heap by the side of the mat-maker, together with a quantity of the bark string which has already been mentioned. He pierces them with a bone or metal needle, or with a mimosa thorn if he does not possess a needle, and passes the string through the holes, so as to fasten the reeds together. Even considering the very slow and deliberate manner in which the Hottentot works, the mats can be made with considerable rapidity, and it is needless to observe that three Hottentots do not get through nearly as much work as an average Englishman.

In some cases, the Hottentot substitutes the skins of sheep or oxen for mats, but the latter are most generally in use—probably because the skins are too valuable as articles of apparel to be employed for the mere exterior of a house. Owing to the manner in which these huts are made, they are more impervious to weather than those of the Kaffir, and, as a necessary consequence, are less capable of letting out the smoke. An European can, on a pinch, exist in a Kaffir hut, but to do so in a skin-covered Hottentot house is almost impossible. To a restless and ever-moving people like the Hottentots, these mats are absolute necessaries. A hut of ordinary size can be packed on the back of an ox, while another ox can carry all the simple furniture and utensils, together with the young children; and thus a whole family can be moved at a few minutes’ notice, without much inconvenience. The huts are, in fact, nothing but tents made of mats, and resemble, in many particulars, the camel-hair tents of the equally nomad Arabs.


(See page 228.)


No one—not even the owner—knows, on seeing a Hottentot hut, whether he will find it in the same place after a few hours have elapsed. Sometimes, a Hottentot wife will set to work, pull the hut to pieces, but, instead of packing it on the back of an ox, rebuild her house within twenty or thirty yards of its original locality. The object of this strange conduct is to rid herself and family from the fleas, which, together with other vermin, swarm exceedingly in a Hottentot’s house, and drive the inmates to escape in the manner related. These unpleasant parasites are generally attacked in the early morning, the mantles, sheepskins, mats, and other articles, being taken outside the hut, and beaten soundly with a stick. Sufficient, however, remain to perpetuate the breed, and at last, as has been seen, they force the Hottentot fairly to remove the house altogether.

As to the Hottentots themselves, they suffer but comparatively little inconvenience from the bites of these creatures, against which the successive coatings of grease, buchu, and sibilo act as a partial defence. But, whenever the insects are fortunate enough to attack a clean-skinned European, they take full advantage of the opportunity, and drive him half mad. Gordon Cumming relates an amusing account of a small adventure which happened to himself in connection with these insects. He was extremely tired, and fell asleep among his followers, one of whom compassionately took off the kaross which he was wearing, and spread it over him. Presently the sleeper started up in a state of unbearable irritation from the bites of the numerous parasites with which the kaross was stocked. He was obliged instantly to remove every single article of apparel, and have them all beaten and searched before he could again resume them.

As may be seen by inspection of the illustration, the huts are not of quite the same shape as those belonging to the Kaffirs, the ends being flattened, and the apertures square instead of rounded, the door, in fact, being simply made by the omission of one mat. The nomad life of the Hottentots is necessitated by their indolent habits, and their utter want of forethought. The Kaffir is not remarkable for the latter quality, as indeed is the case with most savage nations. But the Kaffir is, at all events, a tolerable agriculturist, and raises enough grain to supply his family with food, besides, in many cases, enclosing patches of ground in which to plant certain vegetables and fruit. The Hottentot, however, never had much notion of agriculture, and what little he attempts is of the rudest description.

The unwieldy hoe with which the Kaffir women break up the ground is a sufficiently rude and clumsy instrument, but it is perfection itself when compared with the digging stick of the Hottentot. This is nothing more than a stick of hard wood sharpened at one end, and weighted by means of a perforated stone through which it is passed, and which is held in its place by a wedge. With this rude instrument the Hottentot can break up the ground faster than might be imagined, but he oftener uses it for digging up wild plants, and unearthing sundry burrowing animals, than for any agricultural purposes.

The life of a Hottentot does not tie him to any particular spot. A sub-tribe or horde, which tolerably corresponds with the kraal of the Kaffir, settles down in some locality which they think will supply nourishment, and which is near water. Here, if the spot be favorable, they will sometimes rest for a considerable time, occasionally for a space of several years. Facility for hunting has much to do with the length of time that a horde remains in one spot, inasmuch as the Hottentots are admirable hunters, and quite rival the Kaffirs in this respect, even if they do not excel them. They are especially notable for the persevering obstinacy with which they will pursue their game, thinking a whole day well bestowed if they succeed at last in bringing down their prey.




The weapons which the Hottentots use are mostly the bow and arrow. These weapons are almost identical with those employed by the Bosjesmans, and will be described in a future page. They also employ the assagai, but do not seem to be particularly fond of it, lacking the muscular strength which enables the Kaffir to make such terrible use of it. Moreover, the Hottentot does not carry a sheaf of these weapons, but contents himself with a single one, which he does not throw until he is at tolerably close quarters.

He is, however, remarkable for his skill in throwing the knob-kerrie, which is always of the short form, so that he can carry several of them in his belt. In fact, he uses the kerrie much as the Kaffir uses the assagai, having always a quantity of them to his hand, and hurling them one after the other with deadly accuracy of aim. With these weapons, so useless in the hands of an ordinary European, he can match himself against most of the ordinary animals of Southern Africa, excepting, of course, the larger elephants, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus, and the predaceous felidæ, such as the lion or leopard. These, however, he can destroy by means of pitfalls and other ingenious devices, and if a Hottentot hunter sets himself determinedly to kill or capture any given animal, that creature’s chances of life are but small.

When he has succeeded in killing game, his voracity is seen to equal his patience. Hunger he can endure with wonderful indifference, tightening his belt day by day, and contriving to support existence on an almost inappreciable quantity of food. But, when he can only procure meat, he eats with a continued and sustained voracity that is almost incredible. For quality be cares but little, and so that he can obtain unlimited supplies of meat, he does not trouble himself whether it be tough or tender. Whenever one of a horde of Hottentots succeeds in killing a large animal, such as an elephant or hippopotamus, and it happens to be at a distance from the kraal, the inhabitants prefer to strike their tent-like houses and to remove them to the animal rather than trouble themselves by making repeated journeys to and fro. The chief reason for this strange conduct is, that, if they took the latter alternative, they would deprive themselves of one of the greatest luxuries which a Hottentot can enjoy. Seldom tasting meat, they become semi-intoxicated under its influence, and will gorge themselves to the utmost limit of endurance, sleeping after the fashion of a boa-constrictor that has swallowed a goat, and then awaking only to gorge themselves afresh, and fall asleep again.

There is an excuse for this extraordinary exhibition of gluttony, namely, that the hot climate causes meat to putrefy so rapidly that it must be eaten at once if it is eaten at all. Even as it is, the Hottentots are often obliged to eat meat that is more than tainted, and from which even the greatest admirer of high game would recoil with horror. They do not, however, seem to trouble themselves about such trifles, and devour the tainted meat as eagerly as if it were[233] perfectly fresh. Whatever may be the original quality of the meat, it owes nothing to the mode in which it is dressed, for the Hottentots are perhaps the very worst cooks in the world. They take an earthen pot, nearly fill it with water, put it on the fire, and allow it to boil. They then cut up their meat into lumps as large as a man’s fist, throw them into the pot, and permit them to remain there until they are wanted. Sometimes, when the feasters are asleep themselves, they allow the meat to remain in the pot for half a day or so, during which time the women are obliged to keep the water continually boiling, and it may be imagined the ultimate result of their cooking is not particularly palatable.

It has already been mentioned that the Hottentot tribes are remarkable for their appetites. They are no less notable for their power of sleep. A thorough-bred Hottentot can sleep at any time, and it is almost impossible to place him under conditions in which he will not sleep. If he be pinched with hunger, and can see no means of obtaining food either by hunting or from the ground, he lies down, rolls himself up in his kaross, and in a few moments is wrapped in slumber. Sleep to him almost answers the purpose of food, and he can often say with truth that “he who sleeps dines.” When he sleeps his slumber is truly remarkable, as it appears more like a lethargy than sleep, as we understand the word. A gun may be fired close to the ear of a sleeping Hottentot and he will not notice it, or, at all events, will merely turn himself and sink again to repose. Even in sleep there is a distinction between the Kaffir and the Hottentot. The former lies at full length on his mat, while the other coils himself up like a human hedgehog. In spite of the evil atmosphere of their huts, the Hottentots are companionable even in their sleep, and at night the door of a hut will be covered with a number of Hottentots, all lying fast asleep, and so mixed up together that it is scarcely possible to distinguish the various bodies to which the limbs belong. The illustration No. 3, page 247, gives a good idea of this singular custom.

The cattle of the Hottentots have several times been mentioned. These, like the Kaffir oxen, are used as beasts of burden and for riding, and are accoutred in the same manner, i. e. by a leathern rope passed several times round the body, and hauled tight by men at each end. Perhaps the reader may remember that in days long gone by, when the Hottentots were a powerful nation and held the command of Southern Africa, their kraals or villages were defended by a peculiar breed of oxen, which were especially trained for that purpose, and which answered the same purpose as the watch-dogs which now beset the villages. These oxen were said to be trained to guard the entrance of the kraal, and to know every inhabitant of the village, from the oldest inhabitant down to the child which could only just crawl about. Strangers they would not permit to approach the kraal except when escorted by one of the inhabitants, nor would they suffer him to go out again except under the same protection.

This story is generally supposed to be a mere fabrication, and possibly may be so. There is, however, in my collection an ox-horn which was brought from Southern Africa by the Rev. Mr. Shooter, and of which no one could give an account. It is evidently very old, and, although the horn of a domesticated variety of cattle, is quite unlike the horns of the oxen which belong to the native tribes of the present day, being twice as large, and having altogether a different aspect. It is just such a horn as might have belonged to the oxen aforesaid, and, although it cannot be definitely said to have grown on the head of one of these animals, there is just a possibility that such may have been the case.

Like the Kaffir, the Hottentot has a wonderful recollection of an ox. If he but sees one for a minute or two he will remember that ox again, wherever it may be, and even after the lapse of several years. He will recognize it in the midst of a herd, even in a strange place, where he could have no expectation of meeting it, and he will remember its “spoor,” and be able to trace its footsteps among the tracks of the whole herd. He has even been known to discover a stolen cow by seeing a calf which she had produced after she was stolen, and which he recognized from its likeness to its mother.

The marriages of the Hottentots are very simple affairs, and consist merely in paying a certain price and taking the bride home. In Kolben’s well-known work there is a most elaborate and circumstantial description of a Hottentot marriage, detailing with needless precision a number of extraordinary rites performed by the priest over the newly-wedded pair. Now, inasmuch as the order of priests is not known to have existed among the Hottentots, and certainly did not exist in Kolben’s time, the whole narrative falls to the ground. The fact is, that Kolben found it easier to describe second-hand than to investigate for himself, and the consequence was, that the Dutch colonists, from whom he gained his information, amused themselves by imposing upon his credulity.

Polygamy, although not prohibited among the Hottentots, is but rarely practised. Some men have several wives, but this is the exception, and not the rule.

As they have no priests, so they have no professional doctors. They are all adepts in the very slight amount of medical and surgical knowledge which is required by them, and have no idea of a separate order of men[234] who practise the healing art. Unlike the Kaffirs, who are the most superstitious of mankind, the Hottentots are entirely free from superstition, inasmuch as they have not the least conception of any religious sentiments whatsoever. The present world forms the limit of all their ideas, and they seem, so far as is known, to be equally ignorant of a Creator and of the immortality of the soul.

The language of the Hottentot races is remarkable for a peculiarity which is, I believe, restricted to themselves and to the surrounding tribes, who have evidently learned it from them. This is the presence of the “click,” which is found in almost all the tribes that inhabit Southern Africa, with the exception of the Amazulu, who are free from this curious adjunct to their language, and speak a tongue as soft as Italian. There are three of these “clicks,” formed by the tongue, the teeth, and the palate, and each of them alters the signification of the word with which it is used. The first, which is in greatest use, is made by pressing the tip of the tongue against the upper front teeth, and then smartly disengaging it. The sound is exactly like that which is produced by some persons when they are annoyed. The second click is formed by pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth, and then sharply withdrawing it, so as to produce a sound like that which is used by grooms when urging a horse. It has to be done, however, with the least possible force that will produce the effect, as otherwise the click and the syllable to which it is joined cannot be sounded simultaneously. The last click is much louder than the others, and is formed by drawing the tongue back as far as possible, and pressing the tip against the back of the palate. It is then forced rapidly toward the lips, so as to produce a much deeper and more sonorous sound than can be obtained by the two former modes.

In the few words which can be given to this branch of the subject, we will distinguish these several sounds by the titles of “clack,” “click,” and “cluck.” The reader will find it very difficult to produce either of these sounds simultaneously with a part of a word, but, if he should desire to make himself understood in the Hottentot dialect, it is absolutely necessary that he should do so. How needful these curious adjuncts are has been well shown by Le Vaillant. For instance, the word Aap, without any click at all, signifies a horse, but with the click it signifies an arrow, and with the clack it becomes the name of a river. It is, of course, impossible to reduce this language to any known alphabet, and the necessary consequence is that hardly any two travellers who have written accounts of the Hottentot tribes have succeeded in spelling words so that they would be recognized, or in such a manner that the reader would be able to pronounce them. The general mode of expressing these clicks is by prefixing the letters ts or g to the word, and the reader may find a very familiar example in the word Gnoo, which ought really to be spelt without the g, and with some prefix which would denote the kind of click which is used with it.

The amusements of the Hottentots consist chiefly of singing and dancing, together with playing on a curious instrument called the Goura. This instrument, however, belongs rather to the Bosjesman group of the Hottentot race, and will therefore be described in a future page. Their songs are also evidently derived from the same source, and their melodies are identical. Examples of Bosjesman songs will be presently given, together with the description of the Goura. In the words of the songs, however, the Hottentots have the advantage, as they always have some signification, whereas those of the Bosjesmans have not even the semblance of meaning, and are equivalent to the do, re, mi, &c., of modern music.

Le Vaillant mentions that the subject of the songs which the Hottentots sang was almost always some adventure which had happened to themselves, so that, like the negroes, they can sing throughout the whole night, by the simple expedient of repeating the words of their song over and over again. They prefer the night to the day for this purpose, because the atmosphere is cooler, and the tasks of the day are over.

“When they are desirous of indulging in this amusement, they join hands and form a circle of greater or less extent, in proportion to the number of male and female dancers, who are always mixed with a kind of symmetry. When the chain is made, they turn round from one side to another, separating at certain intervals to mark the measure, and from time to time clap their hands without interrupting the cadence, while with their voices they accompany the sound of the instrument, and continually chant ‘Hoo! Hoo!’ This is the general burden of their song.

“Sometimes one of the dancers quits the circle, and, going to the centre, performs there alone a few steps after the English manner, all the merit and beauty of which consist in performing them with equal quickness and precision, without stirring from the spot where he stands. After this they all quit each other’s hands, follow one another carelessly with an air of terror and melancholy, their heads leaning to one shoulder, and their eyes cast down toward the ground, which they look at with attention; and in a moment after they break forth in the liveliest demonstration of joy, and the most extravagant merriment.

“They are highly delighted with this contrast when it is well performed. All this is[235] at bottom but an alternate assemblage of very droll and amusing pantomimes. It must be observed that the dancers make a hollow monotonous kind of humming, which never ceases, except when they join the spectators and sing the wonderful chorus, ‘Hoo! Hoo!’ which appears to be the life and soul of this magnificent music. They usually conclude with a general ball; that is to say, the ring is broken and they all dance in confusion as each chooses, and upon this occasion they display all their strength and agility. The most expert dancers repeat, by way of defiance to each other, those dangerous leaps and musical quivers of our grand academies, which excite laughter as deservedly as the ‘Hoo! Hoo!’ of Africa.”

Whether for singing, dancing, or other relaxation, the Hottentots never assemble except by night, the day being far too precious for mere amusement. During the day the men are engaged in the different pursuits of their life, some being far from their home on the track of some animal which they are hunting, and whose flesh is devoted to the support of themselves and their families. Other are laboriously making snares, digging pitfalls, or going the rounds of those which are already made, so that animals which have been captured may be removed, and the snares reset. They have also to make their bows, arrows, spears, and clubs, operations which absorb much time, partly because their tools are few and imperfect, and partly because all their work is undertaken with a degree of deliberation which is exceedingly irritating to an European spectator.

The women, too, are engaged in their own occupations, which are infinitely more laborious than those of the men, and consist of all kinds of domestic work, including taking down and putting up the huts, collecting wood for the evening fires, and preparing the food for the men when they return home. With the shades of evening all attempts at industry are given up, and the Hottentots amuse themselves throughout nearly the entire night. The savage does not by any means go to bed with the birds and arise with them, as is popularly supposed, and almost invariably is an incorrigible sitter-up at night, smoking, talking, singing, dancing, and otherwise amusing himself, as if he had done nothing whatever all day.

Perhaps he may owe the capability of enduring such constant dissipation to the fact that he can command sleep at will, and that his slumber is so deep as to be undisturbed by the clamor that is going on around him. If, for example, a Hottentot has been hunting all day, and has returned home weary with the chase and with carrying the animals, he will not think of sleeping until he has had his supper, smoked his pipe, and enjoyed an hour or two of dancing and singing. But, as soon as he feels disposed to cease from his amusements, he retires from the circle, rolls himself up in his kaross, lies down, and in a few seconds is fast asleep, unheeding the noise which is made close to his ears by his companions who are still pursuing their revels.

There is a singular dance which is much in vogue among the young Hottentot girls, and which is, as far as I know, peculiar to them. As a small melon is the chief object of the sport, it goes by the name of the Melon Dance, and is thus performed:—In the evening, when the air is cool, the girls assemble and choose one of their number as a leader. She takes a small round melon in her hands, and begins to run in a circle, waving her arms and flinging about her limbs in the wildest imaginable way. The others follow her and imitate her movements, and, as they are not impeded by many trammels of dress, and only wear the ordinary cap and girdle of leathern thongs, their movements are full of wild grace. As the leader runs round the course, she flings the melon in the air, catches it, flings it again, and at last stoops suddenly, leaps into the air, and throws the melon beneath her toward the girl who follows her. The object of this dance is twofold. The second girl has to catch the melon without ceasing from her course, and the first has to throw it when she fancies that the second is off her guard. Consequently, she makes all kinds of feints, pretending to throw the melon several times, and trying to deceive by every means in her power. If the second girl fails in catching the melon the first retains her leadership, but if she succeeds she becomes leader, and goes through the same manœuvres. In this way the melon goes round and round, and the sport is continued until the dancers are too fatigued to continue it.

From the above description some persons might fancy that this dance offends the sense of decorum. It does not so. It is true that the style of clothing which is worn by the dancers is not according to European notions, but, according to their own ideas, it is convenient and according to usage. Neither is there anything in the dance itself which ought to shock a rightly constituted mind. It is simply an ebullition of youthful spirits, and has nothing in common with dances in many parts of the world which are avowedly and intendedly licentious, and which, whether accompanied by more or less clothing than is worn by these Hottentot girls, are repulsive rather than attractive to any one who possesses any amount of self-respect.

In this instance the dance is conducted in perfect innocence, and the performers have no more idea of impropriety in the scanty though graceful and artistic dress they wear, than has an English lady at appearing[236] with her face unveiled. As long as clothing is not attempted, it does not seem to be required, but, when any portion of European clothing is assumed, the whole case is altered. Mr. Baines narrates a little corroborative incident. He was travelling in a wagon, accompanied, as usual, by Hottentots and their families. The latter, mostly females, were walking by the side of the wagon, wearing no costume but the slight leathern girdle. It so happened that some old shoes were thrown out of the wagon, and immediately appropriated by the women, who have an absurd hankering after European apparel. No sooner had they put on shoes than they looked naked. They had not done so before, but even that slight amount of civilized clothing seemed to suggest that the whole body had to be clothed also, and so strong was this feeling that Mr. Baines found means of removing the obnoxious articles of apparel.

The Hottentots have a remarkable game which they call by the name of Card-playing, apparently because no cards are used in it. This game is simply an exhibition of activity and quickness of hand, being somewhat similar in principle to our own boy’s game of Odd and Even. It is illustrated on the opposite page, and is thus described by Burchell:—

“At one of the fires an amusement of a very singular and nearly unintelligible kind was the source of great amusement, not only to the performers themselves, but to all the bystanders. They called it Card-playing, a word in this instance strangely misapplied. Two Hottentots, seated opposite each other on the ground, were vociferating, as if in a rage, some particular expressions in their own language: laughing violently, throwing their bodies on either side, tossing their arms in all directions—at one moment with their hands close together, at another stretched out wide apart; up in the air at one time, or in an instant down to the ground; sometimes with them closed, at other times exhibiting them open to their opponent. Frequently in the heat of the game they started upon their knees, falling back immediately on the ground again; and all this in such a quick, wild, extraordinary manner, that it was impossible, after watching their motions for a long time, to discover the nature of their game, or to comprehend the principle on which it was founded, any more than a person entirely ignorant of the moves at chess could learn that by merely looking on.

“This is a genuine Hottentot game, as every one would certainly suppose, on seeing the uncouth manner in which it is played. It is, they say, of great antiquity, and at present practised only by such as have preserved some portion of their original customs, and they pretend that it is not every Hottentot who possesses the talent necessary for playing it in perfection.

“I found some difficulty in obtaining an intelligible explanation, but learned at last that the principle consists in concealing a small piece of stick in one hand so dexterously that the opponent shall not be able, when both closed hands are presented to him, to distinguish in which it is held, while at the same time he is obliged to decide by some sign or motion either on one or the other. As soon as the opponent has gained a certain number of guesses, he is considered to have won a game, and it then becomes his turn to take the stick, and display his ingenuity in concealing it and in deceiving the other. In this manner the games are continued alternately, often the whole night long, or until the players are exhausted with fatigue. In the course of them various little incidents, either of ingenuity or of mistake, occur to animate their exertions, and excite the rude, harmless mirth of their surrounding friends.” The reader will probably see the close resemblance between this game played by the Hottentots of Southern Africa and the well-known game of “Morro,” that is so popular in several parts of Southern Europe.

The Hottentot seems to be as fond of a practical joke as the Kaffir, and to take it as good-humoredly. On one occasion, when a traveller was passing through Africa with a large party, several of the Hottentots, who ought to have been on the watch, contrived to draw near the fire, and to fall asleep. Some of their companions determined to give them a thorough fright, and to recall to their minds that they ought to have been watching and not sleeping. Accordingly, they went off to a little distance, and shot a couple of Bosjesman arrows close to the sleepers. Deep as is a Hottentot’s slumber, he can shake off sleep in a moment at the approach of danger, and, although the loudest sound will not wake him, provided that it be of a harmless character, an almost inaudible sound will reach his ears, provided that it presage danger. As soon as the sleeping Hottentots heard the twang of the bow, they sprang up in alarm, which was not decreased by the sight of the arrows falling close to them, sprang to the wagon for their arms, and were received with a shout of laughter.

However, they soon had their revenge. One dark evening the young men were amusing themselves with setting fire to some dried reeds a few hundred yards from the camp. While they were enjoying the waves of fire as they rolled along, driven by the wind, the Hottentots stole behind the reeds, and with the shell of an ostrich egg imitated the roar of an approaching lion so accurately, that the young men began to shout in order to drive the lion away, and at last ran to the camp screaming with terror. Of course the songs that were sung in the camp that night were full of reference to Bosjesmans and lions.


(See page 236.)

(See page 254.)


The Hottentot has a constitutional inability to compute time. A traveller can never discover the age of a Hottentot, partly because the man himself has not the least notion of his age, or indeed of annual computation at all, and partly because a Hottentot looks as old at thirty-five as at sixty-five. He can calculate the time of day by the position of the sun with regard to the meridian, but his memory will not serve him so far as to enable him to compute annual time by the height of the sun above the horizon. As is the case with most savage races, his unit of time is the new moon, and he makes all his reckonings of time to consist of so many moons. An amusing instance of this deficiency is given by Dr. Lichtenstein, in his “Travels in South Africa”:—

“A Hottentot, in particular, engaged our attention by the simplicity with which he told his story. After he had harangued for a long time in broken Dutch, we collected so much as that he agreed with a colonist to serve him for a certain time, at fixed wages, as herdsman, but before the time expired they had parted by mutual agreement. The dispute was how much of the time remained; consequently, how much wages the master had a right to deduct from the sum which was to have been paid for the whole time.

“To illustrate this matter, the Hottentot gave us the following account:—‘My Baas,’ said he, ‘will have it that I was to serve so long’ (and here he stretched out his left arm and hand, and laid the little finger of his right hand directly under the arm); ‘but I say that I only agreed to serve so long,’ and here he laid his right hand upon the joint of the left. Apparently, he meant by this to signify that the proportion of the time he had served with that he had agreed to serve was the same as the proportion of what he pointed out of the arm to the whole length of it. At the same time he showed us a small square stick, in which, at every full moon, he had made a little notch, with a double one at the full moon when he quitted the colonist’s service. As the latter was present, and several of the colonists and Hottentots, who attended as auditors, could ascertain exactly the time of entering on the service, the conclusion was, as is very commonly the case, that both the master and the servant were somewhat in the wrong; that the one reckoned too much of the time expired, the other too little; and that, according to the Hottentot’s mode of measuring, the time expired came to about the knuckle.

“The Hottentots understand no other mode of measuring time but by lunar months and days; they have no idea of the division of the day into hours. If a man asks a Hottentot how far it is to such a place, he either makes no answer, or points to a certain spot in the heavens, and says, ‘The sun will be there when you get to it.’”

Warfare among the Hottentots scarcely deserves the name, because we can hardly use such a term as “warfare” where there is no distinction of officer or private, where there is no commander, and no plan of action. The men who are able to wield the bow and arrow advance in a body upon the enemy, and are led by any one who thinks himself brave enough to take the command. When they come to close quarters with the enemy, every one fights in the way that suits himself best, without giving support to those of his own side, or expecting it from his comrades. Even the chief man of a horde is not necessarily the leader, and indeed his authority over the horde is more nominal than real. A mere boy may assume the leadership of the expedition, and, if he is courageous enough to take the lead, he may keep it until some still braver warrior comes to the front. It evident that such warfare is merely a succession of skirmishes or duels, much as was the case in the days of Hector and Achilles, each soldier selecting his own particular adversary, and fighting him until one of the two is killed, runs away, or renders himself prisoner.

As far as is known, the Hottentots never made war, according to the usual acceptation of the word. If insulted or aggrieved by having their cattle stolen, they would go off and make reprisals, but they had no idea of carrying on war for any political object. This is probably the reason why they were so completely overcome by the Kaffir tribes, who had some knowledge of warfare as an art, and who drove them further and further away from their own domains, until their nationality was destroyed, and they were reduced to a mere aggregation of scattered tribes, without unity, and consequently without power.

However nationally unwarlike the Hottentot may be, and however incapable he may be of military organization, he can be made into a soldier who is not only useful, but unapproachable in his own peculiar line. Impatient, as a rule, of military discipline, he hates above all things to march in step, to go through the platoon exercise, and to perform those mechanical movements which delight the heart of the drill-sergeant. He is, as a rule, abhorrent of anything like steady occupation, and this tendency of mind incapacitates him from being an agriculturist, while it aids in qualifying him for the hunter’s life. Now, as a rule, a good hunter makes a good soldier, especially of the irregular kind, and the training which is afforded by the pursuit of the fleet, powerful, and dangerous beasts of Africa, makes the Hottentot one of the best irregular soldiers in the world.


But he must be allowed to fight in his own way, to choose his own time for attack, to make it in the mode that suits him best, and to run away if flight happens to suit him better than battle. He has not the least idea of getting himself killed or wounded on mere points of honor; and if he sees that the chances of war are likely to go much against him, he quietly retreats, and “lives to fight another day.” To this mode of action he is not prompted by any feeling of fear, but merely by the commonsense view of the case. His business is to kill the enemy, and he means to do it. But that desirable object cannot be attained if he allows them to kill him, and so he guards himself against the latter event as much as possible. Indeed, if he is wounded when he might have avoided a wound, he feels heartily ashamed of himself for having committed such an error; and if he succeeds in killing or wounding an enemy without suffering damage himself, he glories in his superior ingenuity, and makes merry over the stupidity of his foe.

Fear—as we understand the word—has very little influence over the Hottentot soldier, whether he be trained to fight with the white man’s fire-arms, or whether he uses the bow and arrow of his primitive life. If he must fight, he will do so with a quiet and dogged valor, and any enemy that thinks to conquer him will find that no easy task lies before him.

Mr. Christie has narrated to me several incidents which show the obstinate courage with which a Hottentot can fight when pressed. One of them is as follows:—

“During the Kaffir war of 1847, a body of Hottentots were surrounded by a large party of Kaffirs, and, after a severe struggle, succeeded in cutting their way through their dark foes. One of the Hottentots, however, happened to be wounded near the spine, so that he lost the use of his legs, and could not stand. Even though suffering under this severe injury, he would not surrender, but dragged himself to an ant-hill, and supported his back against it, so that his arms were at liberty. In this position he continued to load and fire, though completely exposed to the bullets and assagais of the Kaffirs. So true was his aim, even under these circumstances, that he killed and wounded a considerable number of them; and, when a reinforcing party came to their help, the brave fellow was at the point of death, but still breathing, though his body was completely riddled with bullets, and cut to pieces with spears.”

This anecdote also serves to show the extraordinary tenacity of life possessed by this race—a tenacity which seems to rival that of the lower reptiles. On one occasion, Mr. Christie was in a surgeon’s house in Grahamstown, when a Hottentot walked in, and asked the surgeon to look at his head, which had been damaged on the previous night by a blow from a knob-kerrie. He took off his hat and the handkerchief which, according to custom, was wrapped round his head, and exhibited an injury which would have killed most Europeans on the spot, and certainly would have prostrated them utterly. On the crown of his head there was a circular wound, about an inch in diameter, and more than half an inch deep, the bone having been driven down on the brain by a blow from the heavy knob of the weapon. The depressed part of the skull was raised as well as could be done, and the remainder cut away. The operation being over, the man replaced his hat and handkerchief, and walked away, apparently little the worse for his accident, or the operation which succeeded it.

On another occasion, the same gentleman saw a Hottentot wagon-driver fall from his seat under the wheels. One of the forewheels passed over his neck, and, as the wagon was loaded with some two tons of firewood, it might be supposed that the man was killed on the spot. To the surprise of the beholder, he w