Start in June, 1852, on the last and longest Journey from Cape Town — Companions — Wagon-traveling — Physical Divisions of Africa — The Eastern, Central, and Western Zones — The Kalahari Desert — Its Vegetation — Increasing Value of the Interior for Colonization — Our Route — Dutch Boers — Their Habits — Sterile Appearance of the District — Failure of Grass — Succeeded by other Plants — Vines — Animals — The Boers as Farmers — Migration of Springbucks — Wariness of Animals — The Orange River — Territory of the Griquas and Bechuanas — The Griquas — The Chief Waterboer — His wise and energetic Government — His Fidelity — Ill-considered Measures of the Colonial Government in regard to Supplies of Gunpowder — Success of the Missionaries among the Griquas and Bechuanas — Manifest Improvement of the native Character — Dress of the Natives — A full-dress Costume — A Native’s Description of the Natives — Articles of Commerce in the Country of the Bechuanas — Their Unwillingness to learn, and Readiness to criticise.
Having sent my family home to England, I started in the beginning of June, 1852, on my last journey from Cape Town. This journey extended from the southern extremity of the continent to St. Paul de Loando, the capital of Angola, on the west coast, and thence across South Central Africa in an oblique direction to Kilimane (Quilimane) in Eastern Africa. I proceeded in the usual conveyance of the country, the heavy, lumbering Cape wagon drawn by ten oxen, and was accompanied by two Christian Bechuanas from Kuruman — than whom I never saw better servants any where — by two Bakwain men, and two young girls, who, having come as nurses with our children to the Cape, were returning to their home at Kolobeng. Wagon-traveling in Africa has been so often described that I need say no more than that it is a prolonged system of picnicking, excellent for the health, and agreeable to those who are not over-fastidious about trifles, and who delight in being in the open air.
Our route to the north lay near the centre of the cone-shaped mass of land which constitutes the promontory of the Cape. If we suppose this cone to be divided into three zones or longitudinal bands, we find each presenting distinct peculiarities of climate, physical appearance and population. These are more marked beyond than within the colony. At some points one district seems to be continued in and to merge into the other, but the general dissimilarity warrants the division, as an aid to memory. The eastern zone is often furnished with mountains, well wooded with evergreen succulent trees, on which neither fire nor droughts can have the smallest effect (‘Strelitzia’, ‘Zamia horrida’, ‘Portulacaria afra’, ‘Schotia speciosa’, ‘Euphorbias’, and ‘Aloes arborescens’); and its seaboard gorges are clad with gigantic timber. It is also comparatively well watered with streams and flowing rivers. The annual supply of rain is considerable, and the inhabitants (Caffres or Zulus) are tall, muscular, and well made; they are shrewd, energetic, and brave; altogether they merit the character given them by military authorities, of being “magnificent savages”. Their splendid physical development and form of skull show that, but for the black skin and woolly hair, they would take rank among the foremost Europeans.
The next division, that which embraces the centre of the continent, can scarcely be called hilly, for what hills there are are very low. It consists for the most part of extensive, slightly undulating plains. There are no lofty mountains, but few springs, and still fewer flowing streams. Rain is far from abundant, and droughts may be expected every few years. Without artificial irrigation no European grain can be raised, and the inhabitants (Bechuanas), though evidently of the same stock, originally, with those already mentioned, and closely resembling them in being an agricultural as well as a pastoral people, are a comparatively timid race, and inferior to the Caffres in physical development.
The western division is still more level than the middle one, being rugged only near the coast. It includes the great plain called the Kalahari Desert, which is remarkable for little water and very considerable vegetation.
The reason, probably, why so little rain falls on this extensive plain is that the prevailing winds of most of the interior country are easterly, with a little southing. The moisture taken up by the atmosphere from the Indian Ocean is deposited on the eastern hilly slope; and when the moving mass of air reaches its greatest elevation, it is then on the verge of the great valley, or, as in the case of the Kalahari, the great heated inland plains; there, meeting with the rarefied air of that hot, dry surface, the ascending heat gives it greater capacity for retaining all its remaining humidity, and few showers can be given to the middle and western lands in consequence of the increased hygrometric power.
This is the same phenomenon, on a gigantic scale, as that which takes place on Table Mountain, at the Cape, in what is called the spreading of the “table-cloth”. The southeast wind causes a mass of air, equal to the diameter of the mountain, suddenly to ascend at least three thousand feet; the dilatation produced by altitude, with its attendant cold, causes the immediate formation of a cloud on the summit; the water in the atmosphere becomes visible; successive masses of gliding-up and passing-over air cause the continual formation of clouds, but the top of the vapory mass, or “table-cloth”, is level, and seemingly motionless; on the lee side, however, the thick volumes of vapor curl over and descend, but when they reach the point below, where greater density and higher temperature impart enlarged capacity for carrying water, they entirely disappear.
Now if, instead of a hollow on the lee side of Table Mountain, we had an elevated heated plain, the clouds which curl over that side, and disappear as they do at present when a “southeaster” is blowing, might deposit some moisture on the windward ascent and top; but the heat would then impart the increased capacity the air now receives at the lower level in its descent to leeward, and, instead of an extended country with a flora of the ‘Disa grandiflora’, ‘gladiolus’, ‘rushes’, and ‘lichens’, which now appear on Table Mountain, we should have only the hardy vegetation of the Kalahari.
Why there should be so much vegetation on the Kalahari may be explained by the geological formation of the country. There is a rim or fringe of ancient rocks round a great central valley, which, dipping inward, form a basin, the bottom of which is composed of the oldest silurian rocks. This basin has been burst through and filled up in many parts by eruptive traps and breccias, which often bear in their substances angular fragments of the more ancient rocks, as shown in the fossils they contain. Now, though large areas have been so dislocated that but little trace of the original valley formation appears, it is highly probable that the basin shape prevails over large tracts of the country; and as the strata on the slopes, where most of the rain falls, dip in toward the centre, they probably guide water beneath the plains but ill supplied with moisture from the clouds. The phenomenon of stagnant fountains becoming by a new and deeper outlet never-failing streams may be confirmatory of the view that water is conveyed from the sides of the country into the bottom of the central valley; and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the wonderful river system in the north, which, if native information be correct, causes a considerable increase of water in the springs called Matlomagan-yana (the Links), extends its fertilizing influence beneath the plains of the Kalahari.
The peculiar formation of the country may explain why there is such a difference in the vegetation between the 20th and 30th parallels of latitude in South Africa and the same latitudes in Central Australia. The want of vegetation is as true of some parts too in the centre of South America as of Australia; and the cause of the difference holds out a probability for the success of artesian wells in extensive tracts of Africa now unpeopled solely on account of the want of surface water. We may be allowed to speculate a little at least on the fact of much greater vegetation, which, from whatever source it comes, presents for South Africa prospects of future greatness which we can not hope for in Central Australia. As the interior districts of the Cape Colony are daily becoming of higher value, offering to honest industry a fair remuneration for capital, and having a climate unequaled in salubrity for consumptive patients, I should unhesitatingly recommend any farmer at all afraid of that complaint in his family to try this colony. With the means of education already possessed, and the onward and upward movement of the Cape population, he need entertain no apprehensions of his family sinking into barbarism.
The route we at this time followed ran along the middle, or skirted the western zone before alluded to, until we reached the latitude of Lake Ngami, where a totally different country begins. While in the colony, we passed through districts inhabited by the descendants of Dutch and French refugees who had fled from religious persecution. Those living near the capital differ but little from the middle classes in English counties, and are distinguished by public spirit and general intelligence; while those situated far from the centres of civilization are less informed, but are a body of frugal, industrious, and hospitable peasantry. A most efficient system of public instruction was established in the time of Governor Sir George Napier, on a plan drawn up in a great measure by that accomplished philosopher, Sir John Herschel. The system had to contend with less sectarian rancor than elsewhere; indeed, until quite recently, that spirit, except in a mild form, was unknown.
The population here described ought not to be confounded with some Boers who fled from British rule on account of the emancipation of their Hottentot slaves, and perhaps never would have been so had not every now and then some Rip Van Winkle started forth at the Cape to justify in the public prints the deeds of blood and slave-hunting in the far interior. It is therefore not to be wondered at if the whole race is confounded and held in low estimation by those who do not know the real composition of the Cape community.
Population among the Boers increases rapidly; they marry soon, are seldom sterile, and continue to have children late. I once met a worthy matron whose husband thought it right to imitate the conduct of Abraham while Sarah was barren; she evidently agreed in the propriety of the measure, for she was pleased to hear the children by a mother of what has been thought an inferior race address her as their mother. Orphans are never allowed to remain long destitute; and instances are frequent in which a tender-hearted farmer has adopted a fatherless child, and when it came of age portioned it as his own.
Two centuries of the South African climate have not had much effect upon the physical condition of the Boers. They are a shade darker, or rather ruddier, than Europeans, and are never cadaverous-looking, as descendants of Europeans are said to be elsewhere. There is a tendency to the development of steatopyga, so characteristic of Arabs and other African tribes; and it is probable that the interior Boers in another century will become in color what the learned imagine our progenitors, Adam and Eve, to have been.
The parts of the colony through which we passed were of sterile aspect; and, as the present winter had been preceded by a severe drought, many farmers had lost two thirds of their stock. The landscape was uninviting; the hills, destitute of trees, were of a dark brown color, and the scanty vegetation on the plains made me feel that they deserved the name of Desert more than the Kalahari. When first taken possession of, these parts are said to have been covered with a coating of grass, but that has disappeared with the antelopes which fed upon it, and a crop of mesembryanthemums and crassulas occupies its place. It is curious to observe how, in nature, organizations the most dissimilar are mutually dependent on each other for their perpetuation. Here the original grasses were dependent for dissemination on the grass-feeding animals, which scattered the seeds. When, by the death of the antelopes, no fresh sowing was made, the African droughts proved too much for this form of vegetation. But even this contingency was foreseen by the Omniscient One; for, as we may now observe in the Kalahari Desert, another family of plants, the mesembryanthemums, stood ready to neutralize the aridity which must otherwise have followed. This family of plants possesses seed-vessels which remain firmly shut on their contents while the soil is hot and dry, and thus preserve the vegetative power intact during the highest heat of the torrid sun; but when rain falls, the seed-vessel opens and sheds its contents just when there is the greatest probability of their vegetating. In other plants heat and drought cause the seed-vessels to burst and shed their charge.
One of this family is edible (‘Mesembryanthemum edule’); another possesses a tuberous root, which may be eaten raw; and all are furnished with thick, fleshy leaves, having pores capable of imbibing and retaining moisture from a very dry atmosphere and soil, so that, if a leaf is broken during a period of the greatest drought, it shows abundant circulating sap. The plants of this family are found much farther north, but the great abundance of the grasses prevents them from making any show. There, however, they stand ready to fill up any gap which may occur in the present prevailing vegetation; and should the grasses disappear, animal life would not necessarily be destroyed, because a reserve supply, equivalent to a fresh act of creative power, has been provided.
One of this family, ‘M. turbiniforme’, is so colored as to blend in well with the hue of the soil and stones around it; and a ‘gryllus’ of the same color feeds on it. In the case of the insect, the peculiar color is given as compensation for the deficiency of the powers of motion to enable it to elude the notice of birds. The continuation of the species is here the end in view. In the case of the plant the same device is adopted for a sort of double end, viz., perpetuation of the plant by hiding it from animals, with the view that ultimately its extensive appearance will sustain that race.
As this new vegetation is better adapted for sheep and goats in a dry country than grass, the Boers supplant the latter by imitating the process by which graminivorous antelopes have so abundantly disseminated the seed of grasses. A few wagon-loads of mesembryanthemum plants, in seed, are brought to a farm covered with a scanty crop of coarse grass, and placed on a spot to which the sheep have access in the evenings. As they eat a little every night, the seeds are dropped over the grazing grounds in this simple way, with a regularity which could not be matched except at the cost of an immense amount of labor. The place becomes in the course of a few years a sheep-farm, as these animals thrive on such herbage. As already mentioned, some plants of this family are furnished with an additional contrivance for withstanding droughts, viz., oblong tubers, which, buried deep enough beneath the soil for complete protection from the scorching sun, serve as reservoirs of sap and nutriment during those rainless periods which recur perpetually in even the most favored spots of Africa. I have adverted to this peculiarity as often seen in the vegetation of the Desert; and, though rather out of place, it may be well — while noticing a clever imitation of one process in nature by the Cape farmers — to suggest another for their consideration. The country beyond south lat. 18° abounds in three varieties of grape-bearing vines, and one of these is furnished with oblong tubers every three or four inches along the horizontal root. They resemble closely those of the asparagus. This increase of power to withstand the effects of climate might prove of value in the more arid parts of the Cape colony, grapes being well known to be an excellent restorative in the debility produced by heat: by ingrafting, or by some of those curious manipulations which we read of in books on gardening, a variety might be secured better adapted to the country than the foreign vines at present cultivated. The Americans find that some of their native vines yield wines superior to those made from the very best imported vines from France and Portugal. What a boon a vine of the sort contemplated would have been to a Rhenish missionary I met at a part in the west of the colony called Ebenezer, whose children had never seen flowers, though old enough to talk about them!
The slow pace at which we wound our way through the colony made almost any subject interesting. The attention is attracted to the names of different places, because they indicate the former existence of buffaloes, elands, and elephants, which are now to be found only hundreds of miles beyond. A few blesbucks (‘Antilope pygarga’), gnus, bluebucks (‘A. cerulea’), steinbucks, and the ostrich (‘Struthio camelus’), continue, like the Bushmen, to maintain a precarious existence when all the rest are gone. The elephant, the most sagacious, flees the sound of fire-arms first; the gnu and ostrich, the most wary and the most stupid, last. The first emigrants found the Hottentots in possession of prodigious herds of fine cattle, but no horses, asses, or camels. The original cattle, which may still be seen in some parts of the frontier, must have been brought south from the north-northeast, for from this point the natives universally ascribe their original migration. They brought cattle, sheep, goats, and dogs; why not the horse, the delight of savage hordes? Horses thrive well in the Cape Colony when imported. Naturalists point out certain mountain ranges as limiting the habitat of certain classes of animals; but there is no Cordillera in Africa to answer that purpose, there being no visible barrier between the northeastern Arabs and the Hottentot tribes to prevent the different hordes, as they felt their way southward, from indulging their taste for the possession of this noble animal.
I am here led to notice an invisible barrier, more insurmountable than mountain ranges, but which is not opposed to the southern progress of cattle, goats, and sheep. The tsetse would prove a barrier only until its well-defined habitat was known, but the disease passing under the term of horse-sickness (peripneumonia) exists in such virulence over nearly seven degrees of latitude that no precaution would be sufficient to save these animals. The horse is so liable to this disease, that only by great care in stabling can he be kept any where between 20° and 27° S. during the time between December and April. The winter, beginning in the latter month, is the only period in which Englishmen can hunt on horseback, and they are in danger of losing all their studs some months before December. To this disease the horse is especially exposed, and it is almost always fatal. One attack, however, seems to secure immunity from a second. Cattle, too, are subject to it, but only at intervals of a few, sometimes many years; but it never makes a clean sweep of the whole cattle of a village, as it would do of a troop of fifty horses. This barrier, then, seems to explain the absence of the horse among the Hottentots, though it is not opposed to the southern migration of cattle, sheep, and goats.
When the flesh of animals that have died of this disease is eaten, it causes a malignant carbuncle, which, when it appears over any important organ, proves rapidly fatal. It is more especially dangerous over the pit of the stomach. The effects of the poison have been experienced by missionaries who had eaten properly cooked food, the flesh of sheep really but not visibly affected by the disease. The virus in the flesh of the animal is destroyed neither by boiling nor roasting. This fact, of which we have had innumerable examples, shows the superiority of experiments on a large scale to those of acute and able physiologists and chemists in the laboratory, for a well known physician of Paris, after careful investigation, considered that the virus in such cases was completely neutralized by boiling.
This disease attacks wild animals too. During our residence at Chonuan great numbers of tolos, or koodoos, were attracted to the gardens of the Bakwains, abandoned at the usual period of harvest because there was no prospect of the corn (‘Holcus sorghum’) bearing that year. The koodoo is remarkably fond of the green stalks of this kind of millet. Free feeding produced that state of fatness favorable for the development of this disease, and no fewer than twenty-five died on the hill opposite our house. Great numbers of gnus and zebras perished from the same cause, but the mortality produced no sensible diminution in the numbers of the game, any more than the deaths of many of the Bakwains who persisted, in spite of every remonstrance, in eating the dead meat, caused any sensible decrease in the strength of the tribe.
The farms of the Boers consist generally of a small patch of cultivated land in the midst of some miles of pasturage. They are thus less an agricultural than a pastoral people. Each farm must have its fountain; and where no such supply of water exists, the government lands are unsalable. An acre in England is thus generally more valuable than a square mile in Africa. But the country is prosperous, and capable of great improvement. The industry of the Boers augurs well for the future formation of dams and tanks, and for the greater fruitfulness that would certainly follow.
As cattle and sheep farmers the colonists are very successful. Larger and larger quantities of wool are produced annually, and the value of colonial farms increases year by year. But the system requires that with the increase of the population there should be an extension of territory. Wide as the country is, and thinly inhabited, the farmers feel it to be too limited, and they are gradually spreading to the north. This movement proves prejudicial to the country behind, for labor, which would be directed to the improvement of the colony, is withdrawn and expended in a mode of life little adapted to the exercise of industrial habits. That, however, does not much concern the rest of mankind. Nor does it seem much of an evil for men who cultivate the soil to claim a right to appropriate lands for tillage which other men only hunt over, provided some compensation for the loss of sustenance be awarded. The original idea of a title seems to have been that “subduing” or cultivating gave that right. But this rather Chartist principle must be received with limitations, for its recognition in England would lead to the seizure of all our broad ancestral acres by those who are willing to cultivate them. And, in the case under consideration, the encroachments lead at once to less land being put under the plow than is subjected to the native hoe, for it is a fact that the Basutos and Zulus, or Caffres of Natal, cultivate largely, and undersell our farmers wherever they have a fair field and no favor.
Before we came to the Orange River we saw the last portion of a migration of springbucks (‘Gazella euchore’, or tsepe). They come from the great Kalahari Desert, and, when first seen after crossing the colonial boundary, are said often to exceed forty thousand in number. I can not give an estimate of their numbers, for they appear spread over a vast expanse of country, and make a quivering motion as they feed, and move, and toss their graceful horns. They feed chiefly on grass; and as they come from the north about the time when the grass most abounds, it can not be want of food that prompts the movement. Nor is it want of water, for this antelope is one of the most abstemious in that respect. Their nature prompts them to seek as their favorite haunts level plains with short grass, where they may be able to watch the approach of an enemy. The Bakalahari take advantage of this feeling, and burn off large patches of grass, not only to attract the game by the new crop when it comes up, but also to form bare spots for the springbuck to range over.
It is not the springbuck alone that manifests this feeling. When oxen are taken into a country of high grass, they are much more ready to be startled; their sense of danger is increased by the increased power of concealment afforded to an enemy by such cover, and they will often start off in terror at the ill-defined outlines of each other. The springbuck, possessing this feeling in an intense degree, and being eminently gregarious, becomes uneasy as the grass of the Kalahari becomes tall. The vegetation being more sparse in the more arid south, naturally induces the different herds to turn in that direction. As they advance and increase in numbers, the pasturage becomes more scarce; it is still more so the further they go, until they are at last obliged, in order to obtain the means of subsistence, to cross the Orange River, and become the pest of the sheep-farmer in a country which contains scarcely any of their favorite grassy food. If they light on a field of wheat in their way, an army of locusts could not make a cleaner sweep of the whole than they will do. It is questionable whether they ever return, as they have never been seen as a returning body. Many perish from want of food, the country to which they have migrated being unable to support them; the rest become scattered over the colony; and in such a wide country there is no lack of room for all. It is probable that, notwithstanding the continued destruction by fire-arms, they will continue long to hold their place.
On crossing the Orange River we come into independent territory inhabited by Griquas and Bechuanas. By Griquas is meant any mixed race sprung from natives and Europeans. Those in question were of Dutch extraction, through association with Hottentot and Bushwomen. Half-castes of the first generation consider themselves superior to those of the second, and all possess in some degree the characteristics of both parents. They were governed for many years by an elected chief, named Waterboer, who, by treaty, received a small sum per annum from the colonial government for the support of schools in his country, and proved a most efficient guard of our northwest boundary. Cattle-stealing was totally unknown during the whole period of this able chief’s reign; and he actually drove back, single-handed, a formidable force of marauding Mantatees that threatened to invade the colony.15 But for that brave Christian man, Waterboer, there is every human probability that the northwest would have given the colonists as much trouble as the eastern frontier; for large numbers among the original Griquas had as little scruple about robbing farmers of cattle as the Caffres are reputed to have. On the election of Waterboer to the chieftainship, he distinctly declared THAT NO MARAUDING SHOULD BE ALLOWED. As the government of none of these tribes is despotic, some of his principal men, in spite of this declaration, plundered some villages of Corannas living to the south of the Orange River. He immediately seized six of the ringleaders, and, though the step put his own position in jeopardy, he summoned his council, tried, condemned, and publicly executed the whole six. This produced an insurrection, and the insurgents twice attacked his capital, Griqua Town, with the intention of deposing him; but he bravely defeated both attempts, and from that day forth, during his long reign of thirty years, not a single plundering expedition ever left his territory. Having witnessed the deleterious effects of the introduction of ardent spirits among his people, he, with characteristic energy, decreed that any Boer or Griqua bringing brandy into the country should have his property in ardent spirits confiscated and poured out on the ground. The Griqua chiefs living farther east were unable to carry this law into effect as he did, hence the greater facility with which Boers in that direction got the Griquas to part with their farms.
15 For an account of this, see Moffat’s “Scenes and Labors in South Africa”.
Ten years after he was firmly established in power he entered into a treaty with the colonial government, and during the twenty years which followed not a single charge was ever brought against either him or his people; on the contrary, his faithful adherence to the stipulated provisions elicited numerous expressions of approbation from successive governments. A late governor, however, of whom it is impossible to speak without respect, in a paroxysm of generalship which might have been good, had it not been totally inappropriate to the case, set about conciliating a band of rebellious British subjects (Boers), who murdered the Honorable Captain Murray, by proclaiming their independence while still in open rebellion, and not only abrogated the treaty with the Griquas, but engaged to stop the long-accustomed supplies of gunpowder for the defense of the frontier, and even to prevent them from purchasing it for their own defense by lawful trade.
If it had been necessary to prevent supplies of ammunition from finding their way into the country, as it probably was, one might imagine that the exception should not have been made in favor of either Boers or Caffres, our openly-avowed enemies; but, nevertheless, the exception was made, and is still continued in favor of the Boers, while the Bechuanas and Griquas, our constant friends, are debarred from obtaining a single ounce for either defense or trade; indeed, such was the state of ignorance as to the relation of the border tribes with the English, even at Cape Town, that the magistrates, though willing to aid my researches, were sorely afraid to allow me to purchase more than ten pounds of gunpowder, lest the Bechuanas should take it from me by force. As it turned out, I actually left more than that quantity for upward of two years in an open box in my wagon at Linyanti.
The lamented Sir George Cathcart, apparently unconscious of what he was doing, entered into a treaty with the Transvaal Boers, in which articles were introduced for the free passage of English traders to the north, and for the entire prohibition of slavery in the free state. Then passed the “gunpowder ordinance”, by which the Bechuanas, whom alone the Boers dare attempt to enslave, were rendered quite defenseless. The Boers never attempt to fight with Caffres, nor to settle in Caffreland. We still continue to observe the treaty. The Boers never did, and never intended to abide by its provisions; for, immediately on the proclamation of their independence, a slave-hunt was undertaken against the Bechuanas of Sechele by four hundred Boers, under Mr. Peit Scholz, and the plan was adopted which had been cherished in their hearts ever since the emancipation of the Hottentots. Thus, from unfortunate ignorance of the country he had to govern, an able and sagacious governor adopted a policy proper and wise had it been in front of our enemies, but altogether inappropriate for our friends against whom it has been applied. Such an error could not have been committed by a man of local knowledge and experience, such as that noble of colonial birth, Sir Andries Stockenstrom; and such instances of confounding friend and foe, in the innocent belief of thereby promoting colonial interests, will probably lead the Cape community, the chief part of which by no means feels its interest to lie in the degradation of the native tribes, to assert the right of choosing their own governors. This, with colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament, in addition to the local self-government already so liberally conceded, would undoubtedly secure the perpetual union of the colony to the English crown.
Many hundreds of both Griquas and Bechuanas have become Christians and partially civilized through the teaching of English missionaries. My first impressions of the progress made were that the accounts of the effects of the Gospel among them had been too highly colored. I expected a higher degree of Christian simplicity and purity than exists either among them or among ourselves. I was not anxious for a deeper insight in detecting shams than others, but I expected character, such as we imagine the primitive disciples had — and was disappointed.16 When, however, I passed on to the true heathen in the countries beyond the sphere of missionary influence, and could compare the people there with the Christian natives, I came to the conclusion that, if the question were examined in the most rigidly severe or scientific way, the change effected by the missionary movement would be considered unquestionably great.
16 The popular notion, however, of the primitive Church is perhaps not very accurate. Those societies especially which consisted of converted Gentiles — men who had been accustomed to the vices and immoralities of heathenism — were certainly any thing but pure. In spite of their conversion, some of them carried the stains and vestiges of their former state with them when they passed from the temple to the church. If the instructed and civilized Greek did not all at once rise out of his former self, and understand and realize the high ideal of his new faith, we should be careful, in judging of the work of missionaries among savage tribes, not to apply to their converts tests and standards of too great severity. If the scoffing Lucian’s account of the impostor Peregrinus may be believed, we find a church probably planted by the apostles manifesting less intelligence even than modern missionary churches. Peregrinus, a notoriously wicked man, was elected to the chief place among them, while Romish priests, backed by the power of France, could not find a place at all in the mission churches of Tahiti and Madagascar.
We can not fairly compare these poor people with ourselves, who have an atmosphere of Christianity and enlightened public opinion, the growth of centuries, around us, to influence our deportment; but let any one from the natural and proper point of view behold the public morality of Griqua Town, Kuruman, Likatlong, and other villages, and remember what even London was a century ago, and he must confess that the Christian mode of treating aborigines is incomparably the best.
The Griquas and Bechuanas were in former times clad much like the Caffres, if such a word may be used where there is scarcely any clothing at all. A bunch of leather strings about eighteen inches long hung from the lady’s waist in front, and a prepared skin of a sheep or antelope covered the shoulders, leaving the breast and abdomen bare: the men wore a patch of skin, about the size of the crown of one’s hat, which barely served for the purposes of decency, and a mantle exactly like that of the women. To assist in protecting the pores of the skin from the influence of the sun by day and of the cold by night, all smeared themselves with a mixture of fat and ochre; the head was anointed with pounded blue mica schist mixed with fat; and the fine particles of shining mica, falling on the body and on strings of beads and brass rings, were considered as highly ornamental, and fit for the most fastidious dandy. Now these same people come to church in decent though poor clothing, and behave with a decorum certainly superior to what seems to have been the case in the time of Mr. Samuel Pepys in London. Sunday is well observed, and, even in localities where no missionary lives, religious meetings are regularly held, and children and adults taught to read by the more advanced of their own fellow-countrymen; and no one is allowed to make a profession of faith by baptism unless he knows how to read, and understands the nature of the Christian religion.
The Bechuana Mission has been so far successful that, when coming from the interior, we always felt, on reaching Kuruman, that we had returned to civilized life. But I would not give any one to understand by this that they are model Christians — we can not claim to be model Christians ourselves — or even in any degree superior to the members of our country churches. They are more stingy and greedy than the poor at home; but in many respects the two are exactly alike. On asking an intelligent chief what he thought of them, he replied, “You white men have no idea of how wicked we are; we know each other better than you; some feign belief to ingratiate themselves with the missionaries; some profess Christianity because they like the new system, which gives so much more importance to the poor, and desire that the old system may pass away; and the rest — a pretty large number — profess because they are really true believers.” This testimony may be considered as very nearly correct.
There is not much prospect of this country ever producing much of the materials of commerce except wool. At present the chief articles of trade are karosses or mantles — the skins of which they are composed come from the Desert; next to them, ivory, the quantity of which can not now be great, inasmuch as the means of shooting elephants is sedulously debarred entrance into the country. A few skins and horns, and some cattle, make up the remainder of the exports. English goods, sugar, tea, and coffee are the articles received in exchange. All the natives of these parts soon become remarkably fond of coffee. The acme of respectability among the Bechuanas is the possession of cattle and a wagon. It is remarkable that, though these latter require frequent repairs, none of the Bechuanas have ever learned to mend them. Forges and tools have been at their service, and teachers willing to aid them, but, beyond putting together a camp-stool, no effort has ever been made to acquire a knowledge of the trades. They observe most carefully a missionary at work until they understand whether a tire is well welded or not, and then pronounce upon its merits with great emphasis, but there their ambition rests satisfied. It is the same peculiarity among ourselves which leads us in other matters, such as book-making, to attain the excellence of fault-finding without the wit to indite a page. It was in vain I tried to indoctrinate the Bechuanas with the idea that criticism did not imply any superiority over the workman, or even equality with him.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52