The Bakwain Country — Study of the Language — Native Ideas regarding Comets — Mabotsa Station — A Lion Encounter — Virus of the Teeth of Lions — Names of the Bechuana Tribes — Sechele — His Ancestors — Obtains the Chieftainship — His Marriage and Government — The Kotla — First public Religious Services — Sechele’s Questions — He Learns to Read — Novel mode for Converting his Tribe — Surprise at their Indifference — Polygamy — Baptism of Sechele — Opposition of the Natives — Purchase Land at Chonuane — Relations with the People — Their Intelligence — Prolonged Drought — Consequent Trials — Rain-medicine — God’s Word blamed — Native Reasoning — Rain-maker — Dispute between Rain Doctor and Medical Doctor — The Hunting Hopo — Salt or animal Food a necessary of Life — Duties of a Missionary.
The general instructions I received from the Directors of the London Missionary Society led me, as soon as I reached Kuruman or Lattakoo, then, as it is now, their farthest inland station from the Cape, to turn my attention to the north. Without waiting longer at Kuruman than was necessary to recruit the oxen, which were pretty well tired by the long journey from Algoa Bay, I proceeded, in company with another missionary, to the Bakuena or Bakwain country, and found Sechele, with his tribe, located at Shokuane. We shortly after retraced our steps to Kuruman; but as the objects in view were by no means to be attained by a temporary excursion of this sort, I determined to make a fresh start into the interior as soon as possible. Accordingly, after resting three months at Kuruman, which is a kind of head station in the country, I returned to a spot about fifteen miles south of Shokuane, called Lepelole (now Litubaruba). Here, in order to obtain an accurate knowledge of the language, I cut myself off from all European society for about six months, and gained by this ordeal an insight into the habits, ways of thinking, laws, and language of that section of the Bechuanas called Bakwains, which has proved of incalculable advantage in my intercourse with them ever since.
In this second journey to Lepelole — so called from a cavern of that name — I began preparations for a settlement, by making a canal to irrigate gardens, from a stream then flowing copiously, but now quite dry. When these preparations were well advanced, I went northward to visit the Bakaa and Bamangwato, and the Makalaka, living between 22° and 23° south latitude. The Bakaa Mountains had been visited before by a trader, who, with his people, all perished from fever. In going round the northern part of these basaltic hills near Letloche I was only ten days distant from the lower part of the Zouga, which passed by the same name as Lake Ngami;4 and I might then (in 1842) have discovered that lake, had discovery alone been my object. Most part of this journey beyond Shokuane was performed on foot, in consequence of the draught oxen having become sick. Some of my companions who had recently joined us, and did not know that I understood a little of their speech, were overheard by me discussing my appearance and powers: “He is not strong; he is quite slim, and only appears stout because he puts himself into those bags (trowsers); he will soon knock up.” This caused my Highland blood to rise, and made me despise the fatigue of keeping them all at the top of their speed for days together, and until I heard them expressing proper opinions of my pedestrian powers.
4 Several words in the African languages begin with the ringing sound heard in the end of the word “comING”. If the reader puts an ‘i’ to the beginning of the name of the lake, as Ingami, and then sounds the ‘i’ as little as possible, he will have the correct pronunciation. The Spanish n [ny] is employed to denote this sound, and Ngami is spelt nyami — naka means a tusk, nyaka a doctor. Every vowel is sounded in all native words, and the emphasis in pronunciation is put upon the penultimate.
Returning to Kuruman, in order to bring my luggage to our proposed settlement, I was followed by the news that the tribe of Bakwains, who had shown themselves so friendly toward me, had been driven from Lepelole by the Barolongs, so that my prospects for the time of forming a settlement there were at an end. One of those periodical outbreaks of war, which seem to have occurred from time immemorial, for the possession of cattle, had burst forth in the land, and had so changed the relations of the tribes to each other, that I was obliged to set out anew to look for a suitable locality for a mission station.
In going north again, a comet blazed on our sight, exciting the wonder of every tribe we visited. That of 1816 had been followed by an irruption of the Matebele, the most cruel enemies the Bechuanas ever knew, and this they thought might portend something as bad, or it might only foreshadow the death of some great chief. On this subject of comets I knew little more than they did themselves, but I had that confidence in a kind, overruling Providence, which makes such a difference between Christians and both the ancient and modern heathen.
As some of the Bamangwato people had accompanied me to Kuruman, I was obliged to restore them and their goods to their chief Sekomi. This made a journey to the residence of that chief again necessary, and, for the first time, I performed a distance of some hundred miles on ox-back.
Returning toward Kuruman, I selected the beautiful valley of Mabotsa (lat. 25° 14’ south, long. 26° 30’?) as the site of a missionary station, and thither I removed in 1843. Here an occurrence took place concerning which I have frequently been questioned in England, and which, but for the importunities of friends, I meant to have kept in store to tell my children when in my dotage. The Bakatla of the village Mabotsa were much troubled by lions, which leaped into the cattle-pens by night, and destroyed their cows. They even attacked the herds in open day. This was so unusual an occurrence that the people believed that they were bewitched — “given,” as they said, “into the power of the lions by a neighboring tribe.” They went once to attack the animals, but, being rather a cowardly people compared to Bechuanas in general on such occasions, they returned without killing any.
It is well known that if one of a troop of lions is killed, the others take the hint and leave that part of the country. So, the next time the herds were attacked, I went with the people, in order to encourage them to rid themselves of the annoyance by destroying one of the marauders. We found the lions on a small hill about a quarter of a mile in length, and covered with trees. A circle of men was formed round it, and they gradually closed up, ascending pretty near to each other. Being down below on the plain with a native schoolmaster, named Mebalwe, a most excellent man, I saw one of the lions sitting on a piece of rock within the now closed circle of men. Mebalwe fired at him before I could, and the ball struck the rock on which the animal was sitting. He bit at the spot struck, as a dog does at a stick or stone thrown at him; then leaping away, broke through the opening circle and escaped unhurt. The men were afraid to attack him, perhaps on account of their belief in witchcraft. When the circle was re-formed, we saw two other lions in it; but we were afraid to fire lest we should strike the men, and they allowed the beasts to burst through also. If the Bakatla had acted according to the custom of the country, they would have speared the lions in their attempt to get out. Seeing we could not get them to kill one of the lions, we bent our footsteps toward the village; in going round the end of the hill, however, I saw one of the beasts sitting on a piece of rock as before, but this time he had a little bush in front. Being about thirty yards off, I took a good aim at his body through the bush, and fired both barrels into it. The men then called out, “He is shot, he is shot!” Others cried, “He has been shot by another man too; let us go to him!” I did not see any one else shoot at him, but I saw the lion’s tail erected in anger behind the bush, and, turning to the people, said, “Stop a little, till I load again.” When in the act of ramming down the bullets, I heard a shout. Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death. Turning round to relieve myself of the weight, as he had one paw on the back of my head, I saw his eyes directed to Mebalwe, who was trying to shoot him at a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun, a flint one, missed fire in both barrels; the lion immediately left me, and, attacking Mebalwe, bit his thigh. Another man, whose life I had saved before, after he had been tossed by a buffalo, attempted to spear the lion while he was biting Mebalwe. He left Mebalwe and caught this man by the shoulder, but at that moment the bullets he had received took effect, and he fell down dead. The whole was the work of a few moments, and must have been his paroxysms of dying rage. In order to take out the charm from him, the Bakatla on the following day made a huge bonfire over the carcass, which was declared to be that of the largest lion they had ever seen. Besides crunching the bone into splinters, he left eleven teeth wounds on the upper part of my arm.
A wound from this animal’s tooth resembles a gun-shot wound; it is generally followed by a great deal of sloughing and discharge, and pains are felt in the part periodically ever afterward. I had on a tartan jacket on the occasion, and I believe that it wiped off all the virus from the teeth that pierced the flesh, for my two companions in this affray have both suffered from the peculiar pains, while I have escaped with only the inconvenience of a false joint in my limb. The man whose shoulder was wounded showed me his wound actually burst forth afresh on the same month of the following year. This curious point deserves the attention of inquirers.
The different Bechuana tribes are named after certain animals, showing probably that in former times they were addicted to animal-worship like the ancient Egyptians. The term Bakatla means “they of the monkey”; Bakuena, “they of the alligator”; Batlapi, “they of the fish”: each tribe having a superstitious dread of the animal after which it is called. They also use the word “bina”, to dance, in reference to the custom of thus naming themselves, so that, when you wish to ascertain what tribe they belong to, you say, “What do you dance?” It would seem as if that had been a part of the worship of old. A tribe never eats the animal which is its namesake, using the term “ila”, hate or dread, in reference to killing it. We find traces of many ancient tribes in the country in individual members of those now extinct, as the Batau, “they of the lion”; the Banoga, “they of the serpent”; though no such tribes now exist. The use of the personal pronoun they, Ba–Ma, Wa, Va or Ova, Am–Ki, &c., prevails very extensively in the names of tribes in Africa. A single individual is indicated by the terms Mo or Le. Thus Mokwain is a single person of the Bakwain tribe, and Lekoa is a single white man or Englishman — Makoa being Englishmen.
I attached myself to the tribe called Bakuena or Bakwains, the chief of which, named Sechele, was then living with his people at a place called Shokuane. I was from the first struck by his intelligence, and by the marked manner in which we both felt drawn to each other. As this remarkable man has not only embraced Christianity, but expounds its doctrines to his people, I will here give a brief sketch of his career.
His great-grandfather Mochoasele was a great traveler, and the first that ever told the Bakwains of the existence of white men. In his father’s lifetime two white travelers, whom I suppose to have been Dr. Cowan and Captain Donovan, passed through the country (in 1808), and, descending the River Limpopo, were, with their party, all cut off by fever. The rain-makers there, fearing lest their wagons might drive away the rain, ordered them to be thrown into the river. This is the true account of the end of that expedition, as related to me by the son of the chief at whose village they perished. He remembered, when a boy, eating part of one of the horses, and said it tasted like zebra’s flesh. Thus they were not killed by the Bangwaketse, as reported, for they passed the Bakwains all well. The Bakwains were then rich in cattle; and as one of the many evidences of the desiccation of the country, streams are pointed out where thousands and thousands of cattle formerly drank, but in which water now never flows, and where a single herd could not find fluid for its support.
When Sechele was still a boy, his father, also called Mochoasele, was murdered by his own people for taking to himself the wives of his rich under-chiefs. The children being spared, their friends invited Sebituane, the chief of the Makololo, who was then in those parts, to reinstate them in the chieftainship. Sebituane surrounded the town of the Bakwains by night; and just as it began to dawn, his herald proclaimed in a loud voice that he had come to revenge the death of Mochoasele. This was followed by Sebituane’s people beating loudly on their shields all round the town. The panic was tremendous, and the rush like that from a theatre on fire, while the Makololo used their javelins on the terrified Bakwains with a dexterity which they alone can employ. Sebituane had given orders to his men to spare the sons of the chief; and one of them, meeting Sechele, put him in ward by giving him such a blow on the head with a club as to render him insensible. The usurper was put to death; and Sechele, reinstated in his chieftainship, felt much attached to Sebituane. The circumstances here noticed ultimately led me, as will be seen by-and-by, into the new, well-watered country to which this same Sebituane had preceded me by many years.
Sechele married the daughters of three of his under-chiefs, who had, on account of their blood relationship, stood by him in his adversity. This is one of the modes adopted for cementing the allegiance of a tribe. The government is patriarchal, each man being, by virtue of paternity, chief of his own children. They build their huts around his, and the greater the number of children, the more his importance increases. Hence children are esteemed one of the greatest blessings, and are always treated kindly. Near the centre of each circle of huts there is a spot called a “kotla”, with a fireplace; here they work, eat, or sit and gossip over the news of the day. A poor man attaches himself to the kotla of a rich one, and is considered a child of the latter. An under-chief has a number of these circles around his; and the collection of kotlas around the great one in the middle of the whole, that of the principal chief, constitutes the town. The circle of huts immediately around the kotla of the chief is composed of the huts of his wives and those of his blood relations. He attaches the under-chiefs to himself and his government by marrying, as Sechele did, their daughters, or inducing his brothers to do so. They are fond of the relationship to great families. If you meet a party of strangers, and the head man’s relationship to some uncle of a certain chief is not at once proclaimed by his attendants, you may hear him whispering, “Tell him who I am.” This usually involves a counting on the fingers of a part of his genealogical tree, and ends in the important announcement that the head of the party is half-cousin to some well-known ruler.
Sechele was thus seated in his chieftainship when I made his acquaintance. On the first occasion in which I ever attempted to hold a public religious service, he remarked that it was the custom of his nation, when any new subject was brought before them, to put questions on it; and he begged me to allow him to do the same in this case. On expressing my entire willingness to answer his questions, he inquired if my forefathers knew of a future judgment. I replied in the affirmative, and began to describe the scene of the “great white throne, and Him who shall sit on it, from whose face the heaven and earth shall flee away,” &c. He said, “You startle me: these words make all my bones to shake; I have no more strength in me; but my forefathers were living at the same time yours were, and how is it that they did not send them word about these terrible things sooner? They all passed away into darkness without knowing whither they were going.” I got out of the difficulty by explaining the geographical barriers in the North, and the gradual spread of knowledge from the South, to which we first had access by means of ships; and I expressed my belief that, as Christ had said, the whole world would yet be enlightened by the Gospel. Pointing to the great Kalahari desert, he said, “You never can cross that country to the tribes beyond; it is utterly impossible even for us black men, except in certain seasons, when more than the usual supply of rain falls, and an extraordinary growth of watermelons follows. Even we who know the country would certainly perish without them.” Reasserting my belief in the words of Christ, we parted; and it will be seen farther on that Sechele himself assisted me in crossing that desert which had previously proved an insurmountable barrier to so many adventurers.
As soon as he had an opportunity of learning, he set himself to read with such close application that, from being comparatively thin, the effect of having been fond of the chase, he became quite corpulent from want of exercise. Mr. Oswell gave him his first lesson in figures, and he acquired the alphabet on the first day of my residence at Chonuane. He was by no means an ordinary specimen of the people, for I never went into the town but I was pressed to hear him read some chapters of the Bible. Isaiah was a great favorite with him; and he was wont to use the same phrase nearly which the professor of Greek at Glasgow, Sir D. K. Sandford, once used respecting the Apostle Paul, when reading his speeches in the Acts: “He was a fine fellow, that Paul!” “He was a fine man, that Isaiah; he knew how to speak.” Sechele invariably offered me something to eat on every occasion of my visiting him.
Seeing me anxious that his people should believe the words of Christ, he once said, “Do you imagine these people will ever believe by your merely talking to them? I can make them do nothing except by thrashing them; and if you like, I shall call my head men, and with our litupa (whips of rhinoceros hide) we will soon make them all believe together.” The idea of using entreaty and persuasion to subjects to become Christians — whose opinion on no other matter would he condescend to ask — was especially surprising to him. He considered that they ought only to be too happy to embrace Christianity at his command. During the space of two years and a half he continued to profess to his people his full conviction of the truth of Christianity; and in all discussions on the subject he took that side, acting at the same time in an upright manner in all the relations of life. He felt the difficulties of his situation long before I did, and often said, “Oh, I wish you had come to this country before I became entangled in the meshes of our customs!” In fact, he could not get rid of his superfluous wives, without appearing to be ungrateful to their parents, who had done so much for him in his adversity.
In the hope that others would be induced to join him in his attachment to Christianity, he asked me to begin family worship with him in his house. I did so; and by-and-by was surprised to hear how well he conducted the prayer in his own simple and beautiful style, for he was quite a master of his own language. At this time we were suffering from the effects of a drought, which will be described further on, and none except his family, whom he ordered to attend, came near his meeting. “In former times,” said he, “when a chief was fond of hunting, all his people got dogs, and became fond of hunting too. If he was fond of dancing or music, all showed a liking to these amusements too. If the chief loved beer, they all rejoiced in strong drink. But in this case it is different. I love the Word of God, and not one of my brethren will join me.” One reason why we had no volunteer hypocrites was the hunger from drought, which was associated in their minds with the presence of Christian instruction; and hypocrisy is not prone to profess a creed which seems to insure an empty stomach.
Sechele continued to make a consistent profession for about three years; and perceiving at last some of the difficulties of his case, and also feeling compassion for the poor women, who were by far the best of our scholars, I had no desire that he should be in any hurry to make a full profession by baptism, and putting away all his wives but one. His principal wife, too, was about the most unlikely subject in the tribe ever to become any thing else than an out-and-out greasy disciple of the old school. She has since become greatly altered, I hear, for the better; but again and again have I seen Sechele send her out of church to put her gown on, and away she would go with her lips shot out, the very picture of unutterable disgust at his new-fangled notions.
When he at last applied for baptism, I simply asked him how he, having the Bible in his hand, and able to read it, thought he ought to act. He went home, gave each of his superfluous wives new clothing, and all his own goods, which they had been accustomed to keep in their huts for him, and sent them to their parents with an intimation that he had no fault to find with them, but that in parting with them he wished to follow the will of God. On the day on which he and his children were baptized, great numbers came to see the ceremony. Some thought, from a stupid calumny circulated by enemies to Christianity in the south, that the converts would be made to drink an infusion of “dead men’s brains”, and were astonished to find that water only was used at baptism. Seeing several of the old men actually in tears during the service, I asked them afterward the cause of their weeping; they were crying to see their father, as the Scotch remark over a case of suicide, “SO FAR LEFT TO HIMSELF”. They seemed to think that I had thrown the glamour over him, and that he had become mine. Here commenced an opposition which we had not previously experienced. All the friends of the divorced wives became the opponents of our religion. The attendance at school and church diminished to very few besides the chief’s own family. They all treated us still with respectful kindness, but to Sechele himself they said things which, as he often remarked, had they ventured on in former times, would have cost them their lives. It was trying, after all we had done, to see our labors so little appreciated; but we had sown the good seed, and have no doubt but it will yet spring up, though we may not live to see the fruits.
Leaving this sketch of the chief, I proceed to give an equally rapid one of our dealing with his people, the Bakena, or Bakwains. A small piece of land, sufficient for a garden, was purchased when we first went to live with them, though that was scarcely necessary in a country where the idea of buying land was quite new. It was expected that a request for a suitable spot would have been made, and that we should have proceeded to occupy it as any other member of the tribe would. But we explained to them that we wished to avoid any cause of future dispute when land had become more valuable; or when a foolish chief began to reign, and we had erected large or expensive buildings, he might wish to claim the whole. These reasons were considered satisfactory. About £5 worth of goods were given for a piece of land, and an arrangement was come to that a similar piece should be allotted to any other missionary, at any other place to which the tribe might remove. The particulars of the sale sounded strangely in the ears of the tribe, but were nevertheless readily agreed to.
In our relations with this people we were simply strangers exercising no authority or control whatever. Our influence depended entirely on persuasion; and having taught them by kind conversation as well as by public instruction, I expected them to do what their own sense of right and wrong dictated. We never wished them to do right merely because it would be pleasing to us, nor thought ourselves to blame when they did wrong, although we were quite aware of the absurd idea to that effect. We saw that our teaching did good to the general mind of the people by bringing new and better motives into play. Five instances are positively known to me in which, by our influence on public opinion, war was prevented; and where, in individual cases, we failed, the people did no worse than they did before we came into the country. In general they were slow, like all the African people hereafter to be described, in coming to a decision on religious subjects; but in questions affecting their worldly affairs they were keenly alive to their own interests. They might be called stupid in matters which had not come within the sphere of their observation, but in other things they showed more intelligence than is to be met with in our own uneducated peasantry. They are remarkably accurate in their knowledge of cattle, sheep, and goats, knowing exactly the kind of pasturage suited to each; and they select with great judgment the varieties of soil best suited to different kinds of grain. They are also familiar with the habits of wild animals, and in general are well up in the maxims which embody their ideas of political wisdom.
The place where we first settled with the Bakwains is called Chonuane, and it happened to be visited, during the first year of our residence there, by one of those droughts which occur from time to time in even the most favored districts of Africa.
The belief in the gift or power of RAIN-MAKING is one of the most deeply-rooted articles of faith in this country. The chief Sechele was himself a noted rain-doctor, and believed in it implicitly. He has often assured me that he found it more difficult to give up his faith in that than in any thing else which Christianity required him to abjure. I pointed out to him that the only feasible way of watering the gardens was to select some good, never-failing river, make a canal, and irrigate the adjacent lands. This suggestion was immediately adopted, and soon the whole tribe was on the move to the Kolobeng, a stream about forty miles distant. The experiment succeeded admirably during the first year. The Bakwains made the canal and dam in exchange for my labor in assisting to build a square house for their chief. They also built their own school under my superintendence. Our house at the River Kolobeng, which gave a name to the settlement, was the third which I had reared with my own hands. A native smith taught me to weld iron; and having improved by scraps of information in that line from Mr. Moffat, and also in carpentering and gardening, I was becoming handy at almost any trade, besides doctoring and preaching; and as my wife could make candles, soap, and clothes, we came nearly up to what may be considered as indispensable in the accomplishments of a missionary family in Central Africa, namely, the husband to be a jack-of-all-trades without doors, and the wife a maid-of-all-work within. But in our second year again no rain fell. In the third the same extraordinary drought followed. Indeed, not ten inches of water fell during these two years, and the Kolobeng ran dry; so many fish were killed that the hyaenas from the whole country round collected to the feast, and were unable to finish the putrid masses. A large old alligator, which had never been known to commit any depredations, was found left high and dry in the mud among the victims. The fourth year was equally unpropitious, the fall of rain being insufficient to bring the grain to maturity. Nothing could be more trying. We dug down in the bed of the river deeper and deeper as the water receded, striving to get a little to keep the fruit-trees alive for better times, but in vain. Needles lying out of doors for months did not rust; and a mixture of sulphuric acid and water, used in a galvanic battery, parted with all its water to the air, instead of imbibing more from it, as it would have done in England. The leaves of indigenous trees were all drooping, soft, and shriveled, though not dead; and those of the mimosae were closed at midday, the same as they are at night. In the midst of this dreary drought, it was wonderful to see those tiny creatures, the ants, running about with their accustomed vivacity. I put the bulb of a thermometer three inches under the soil, in the sun, at midday, and found the mercury to stand at 132° to 134°; and if certain kinds of beetles were placed on the surface, they ran about a few seconds and expired. But this broiling heat only augmented the activity of the long-legged black ants: they never tire; their organs of motion seem endowed with the same power as is ascribed by physiologists to the muscles of the human heart, by which that part of the frame never becomes fatigued, and which may be imparted to all our bodily organs in that higher sphere to which we fondly hope to rise. Where do these ants get their moisture? Our house was built on a hard ferruginous conglomerate, in order to be out of the way of the white ant, but they came in despite the precaution; and not only were they, in this sultry weather, able individually to moisten soil to the consistency of mortar for the formation of galleries, which, in their way of working, is done by night (so that they are screened from the observation of birds by day in passing and repassing toward any vegetable matter they may wish to devour), but, when their inner chambers were laid open, these were also surprisingly humid. Yet there was no dew, and, the house being placed on a rock, they could have no subterranean passage to the bed of the river, which ran about three hundred yards below the hill. Can it be that they have the power of combining the oxygen and hydrogen of their vegetable food by vital force so as to form water?5
5 When we come to Angola, I shall describe an insect there which distills several pints of water every night.
Rain, however, would not fall. The Bakwains believed that I had bound Sechele with some magic spell, and I received deputations, in the evenings, of the old counselors, entreating me to allow him to make only a few showers: “The corn will die if you refuse, and we shall become scattered. Only let him make rain this once, and we shall all, men, women, and children, come to the school, and sing and pray as long as you please.” It was in vain to protest that I wished Sechele to act just according to his own ideas of what was right, as he found the law laid down in the Bible, and it was distressing to appear hard-hearted to them. The clouds often collected promisingly over us, and rolling thunder seemed to portend refreshing showers, but next morning the sun would rise in a clear, cloudless sky; indeed, even these lowering appearances were less frequent by far than days of sunshine are in London.
The natives, finding it irksome to sit and wait helplessly until God gives them rain from heaven, entertain the more comfortable idea that they can help themselves by a variety of preparations, such as charcoal made of burned bats, inspissated renal deposit of the mountain cony — ‘Hyrax capensis’ — (which, by the way, is used, in the form of pills, as a good antispasmodic, under the name of “stone-sweat”6), the internal parts of different animals — as jackals’ livers, baboons’ and lions’ hearts, and hairy calculi from the bowels of old cows — serpents’ skins and vertebrae, and every kind of tuber, bulb, root, and plant to be found in the country. Although you disbelieve their efficacy in charming the clouds to pour out their refreshing treasures, yet, conscious that civility is useful every where, you kindly state that you think they are mistaken as to their power. The rain-doctor selects a particular bulbous root, pounds it, and administers a cold infusion to a sheep, which in five minutes afterward expires in convulsions. Part of the same bulb is converted into smoke, and ascends toward the sky; rain follows in a day or two. The inference is obvious. Were we as much harassed by droughts, the logic would be irresistible in England in 1857.
6 The name arises from its being always voided on one spot, in the manner practiced by others of the rhinocerontine family; and, by the action of the sun, it becomes a black, pitchy substance.
As the Bakwains believed that there must be some connection between the presence of “God’s Word” in their town and these successive and distressing droughts, they looked with no good will at the church bell, but still they invariably treated us with kindness and respect. I am not aware of ever having had an enemy in the tribe. The only avowed cause of dislike was expressed by a very influential and sensible man, the uncle of Sechele. “We like you as well as if you had been born among us; you are the only white man we can become familiar with (thoaela); but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying; we can not become familiar with that at all. You see we never get rain, while those tribes who never pray as we do obtain abundance.” This was a fact; and we often saw it raining on the hills ten miles off, while it would not look at us “even with one eye”. If the Prince of the power of the air had no hand in scorching us up, I fear I often gave him the credit of doing so.
As for the rain-makers, they carried the sympathies of the people along with them, and not without reason. With the following arguments they were all acquainted, and in order to understand their force, we must place ourselves in their position, and believe, as they do, that all medicines act by a mysterious charm. The term for cure may be translated “charm” (‘alaha’).
MEDICAL DOCTOR. Hail, friend! How very many medicines you have about you this morning! Why, you have every medicine in the country here.
RAIN DOCTOR. Very true, my friend; and I ought; for the whole country needs the rain which I am making.
M. D. So you really believe that you can command the clouds? I think that can be done by God alone.
R. D. We both believe the very same thing. It is God that makes the rain, but I pray to him by means of these medicines, and, the rain coming, of course it is then mine. It was I who made it for the Bakwains for many years, when they were at Shokuane; through my wisdom, too, their women became fat and shining. Ask them; they will tell you the same as I do.
M. D. But we are distinctly told in the parting words of our Savior that we can pray to God acceptably in his name alone, and not by means of medicines.
R. D. Truly! but God told us differently. He made black men first, and did not love us as he did the white men. He made you beautiful, and gave you clothing, and guns, and gunpowder, and horses, and wagons, and many other things about which we know nothing. But toward us he had no heart. He gave us nothing except the assegai, and cattle, and rain-making; and he did not give us hearts like yours. We never love each other. Other tribes place medicines about our country to prevent the rain, so that we may be dispersed by hunger, and go to them, and augment their power. We must dissolve their charms by our medicines. God has given us one little thing, which you know nothing of. He has given us the knowledge of certain medicines by which we can make rain. WE do not despise those things which you possess, though we are ignorant of them. We don’t understand your book, yet we don’t despise it. YOU ought not to despise our little knowledge, though you are ignorant of it.
M. D. I don’t despise what I am ignorant of; I only think you are mistaken in saying that you have medicines which can influence the rain at all.
R. D. That’s just the way people speak when they talk on a subject of which they have no knowledge. When we first opened our eyes, we found our forefathers making rain, and we follow in their footsteps. You, who send to Kuruman for corn, and irrigate your garden, may do without rain; WE can not manage in that way. If we had no rain, the cattle would have no pasture, the cows give no milk, our children become lean and die, our wives run away to other tribes who do make rain and have corn, and the whole tribe become dispersed and lost; our fire would go out.
M. D. I quite agree with you as to the value of the rain; but you can not charm the clouds by medicines. You wait till you see the clouds come, then you use your medicines, and take the credit which belongs to God only.
R. D. I use my medicines, and you employ yours; we are both doctors, and doctors are not deceivers. You give a patient medicine. Sometimes God is pleased to heal him by means of your medicine; sometimes not — he dies. When he is cured, you take the credit of what God does. I do the same. Sometimes God grants us rain, sometimes not. When he does, we take the credit of the charm. When a patient dies, you don’t give up trust in your medicine, neither do I when rain fails. If you wish me to leave off my medicines, why continue your own?
M. D. I give medicine to living creatures within my reach, and can see the effects, though no cure follows; you pretend to charm the clouds, which are so far above us that your medicines never reach them. The clouds usually lie in one direction, and your smoke goes in another. God alone can command the clouds. Only try and wait patiently; God will give us rain without your medicines.
R. D. Mahala-ma-kapa-a-a!! Well, I always thought white men were wise till this morning. Who ever thought of making trial of starvation? Is death pleasant, then?
M. D. Could you make it rain on one spot and not on another?
R. D. I wouldn’t think of trying. I like to see the whole country green, and all the people glad; the women clapping their hands, and giving me their ornaments for thankfulness, and lullilooing for joy.
M. D. I think you deceive both them and yourself.
R. D. Well, then, there is a pair of us (meaning both are rogues).
The above is only a specimen of their way of reasoning, in which, when the language is well understood, they are perceived to be remarkably acute. These arguments are generally known, and I never succeeded in convincing a single individual of their fallacy, though I tried to do so in every way I could think of. Their faith in medicines as charms is unbounded. The general effect of argument is to produce the impression that you are not anxious for rain at all; and it is very undesirable to allow the idea to spread that you do not take a generous interest in their welfare. An angry opponent of rain-making in a tribe would be looked upon as were some Greek merchants in England during the Russian war.
The conduct of the people during this long-continued drought was remarkably good. The women parted with most of their ornaments to purchase corn from more fortunate tribes. The children scoured the country in search of the numerous bulbs and roots which can sustain life, and the men engaged in hunting. Very great numbers of the large game, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, tsessebes, kamas or hartebeests, kokongs or gnus, pallahs, rhinoceroses, etc., congregated at some fountains near Kolobeng, and the trap called “hopo” was constructed, in the lands adjacent, for their destruction. The hopo consists of two hedges in the form of the letter V, which are very high and thick near the angle. Instead of the hedges being joined there, they are made to form a lane of about fifty yards in length, at the extremity of which a pit is formed, six or eight feet deep, and about twelve or fifteen in breadth and length. Trunks of trees are laid across the margins of the pit, and more especially over that nearest the lane where the animals are expected to leap in, and over that farthest from the lane where it is supposed they will attempt to escape after they are in. The trees form an overlapping border, and render escape almost impossible. The whole is carefully decked with short green rushes, making the pit like a concealed pitfall. As the hedges are frequently about a mile long, and about as much apart at their extremities, a tribe making a circle three or four miles round the country adjacent to the opening, and gradually closing up, are almost sure to inclose a large body of game. Driving it up with shouts to the narrow part of the hopo, men secreted there throw their javelins into the affrighted herds, and on the animals rush to the opening presented at the converging hedges, and into the pit, till that is full of a living mass. Some escape by running over the others, as a Smithfield market-dog does over the sheep’s backs. It is a frightful scene. The men, wild with excitement, spear the lovely animals with mad delight; others of the poor creatures, borne down by the weight of their dead and dying companions, every now and then make the whole mass heave in their smothering agonies.
The Bakwains often killed between sixty and seventy head of large game at the different hopos in a single week; and as every one, both rich and poor, partook of the prey, the meat counteracted the bad effects of an exclusively vegetable diet. When the poor, who had no salt, were forced to live entirely on roots, they were often troubled with indigestion. Such cases we had frequent opportunities of seeing at other times, for, the district being destitute of salt, the rich alone could afford to buy it. The native doctors, aware of the cause of the malady, usually prescribed some of that ingredient with their medicines. The doctors themselves had none, so the poor resorted to us for aid. We took the hint, and henceforth cured the disease by giving a teaspoonful of salt, minus the other remedies. Either milk or meat had the same effect, though not so rapidly as salt. Long afterward, when I was myself deprived of salt for four months, at two distinct periods, I felt no desire for that condiment, but I was plagued by very great longing for the above articles of food. This continued as long as I was confined to an exclusively vegetable diet, and when I procured a meal of flesh, though boiled in perfectly fresh rain-water, it tasted as pleasantly saltish as if slightly impregnated with the condiment. Milk or meat, obtained in however small quantities, removed entirely the excessive longing and dreaming about roasted ribs of fat oxen, and bowls of cool thick milk gurgling forth from the big-bellied calabashes; and I could then understand the thankfulness to Mrs. L. often expressed by poor Bakwain women, in the interesting condition, for a very little of either.
In addition to other adverse influences, the general uncertainty, though not absolute want of food, and the necessity of frequent absence for the purpose of either hunting game or collecting roots and fruits, proved a serious barrier to the progress of the people in knowledge. Our own education in England is carried on at the comfortable breakfast and dinner table, and by the cosy fire, as well as in the church and school. Few English people with stomachs painfully empty would be decorous at church any more than they are when these organs are overcharged. Ragged schools would have been a failure had not the teachers wisely provided food for the body as well as food for the mind; and not only must we show a friendly interest in the bodily comfort of the objects of our sympathy as a Christian duty, but we can no more hope for healthy feelings among the poor, either at home or abroad, without feeding them into them, than we can hope to see an ordinary working-bee reared into a queen-mother by the ordinary food of the hive.
Sending the Gospel to the heathen must, if this view be correct, include much more than is implied in the usual picture of a missionary, namely, a man going about with a Bible under his arm. The promotion of commerce ought to be specially attended to, as this, more speedily than any thing else, demolishes that sense of isolation which heathenism engenders, and makes the tribes feel themselves mutually dependent on, and mutually beneficial to each other. With a view to this, the missionaries at Kuruman got permission from the government for a trader to reside at the station, and a considerable trade has been the result; the trader himself has become rich enough to retire with a competence. Those laws which still prevent free commercial intercourse among the civilized nations seem to be nothing else but the remains of our own heathenism. My observations on this subject make me extremely desirous to promote the preparation of the raw materials of European manufactures in Africa, for by that means we may not only put a stop to the slave-trade, but introduce the negro family into the body corporate of nations, no one member of which can suffer without the others suffering with it. Success in this, in both Eastern and Western Africa, would lead, in the course of time, to a much larger diffusion of the blessings of civilization than efforts exclusively spiritual and educational confined to any one small tribe. These, however, it would of course be extremely desirable to carry on at the same time at large central and healthy stations, for neither civilization nor Christianity can be promoted alone. In fact, they are inseparable.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52