Kuruman — Its fine Fountain — Vegetation of the District — Remains of ancient Forests — Vegetable Poison — The Bible translated by Mr. Moffat — Capabilities of the Language — Christianity among the Natives — The Missionaries should extend their Labors more beyond the Cape Colony — Model Christians — Disgraceful Attack of the Boers on the Bakwains — Letter from Sechele — Details of the Attack — Numbers of School-children carried away into Slavery — Destruction of House and Property at Kolobeng — The Boers vow Vengeance against me — Consequent Difficulty of getting Servants to accompany me on my Journey — Start in November, 1852 — Meet Sechele on his way to England to obtain Redress from the Queen — He is unable to proceed beyond the Cape — Meet Mr. Macabe on his Return from Lake Ngami — The hot Wind of the Desert — Electric State of the Atmosphere — Flock of Swifts — Reach Litubaruba — The Cave Lepelole — Superstitions regarding it — Impoverished State of the Bakwains — Retaliation on the Boers — Slavery — Attachment of the Bechuanas to Children — Hydrophobia unknown — Diseases of the Bakwains few in number — Yearly Epidemics — Hasty Burials — Ophthalmia — Native Doctors — Knowledge of Surgery at a very low Ebb — Little Attendance given to Women at their Confinements — The “Child Medicine” — Salubrity of the Climate well adapted for Invalids suffering from pulmonary Complaints.
The permanence of the station called Kuruman depends entirely on the fine ever-flowing fountain of that name. It comes from beneath the trap-rock, of which I shall have to speak when describing the geology of the entire country; and as it usually issues at a temperature of 72° Fahr., it probably comes from the old silurian schists, which formed the bottom of the great primeval valley of the continent. I could not detect any diminution in the flow of this gushing fountain during my residence in the country; but when Mr. Moffat first attempted a settlement here, thirty-five years ago, he made a dam six or seven miles below the present one, and led out the stream for irrigation, where not a drop of the fountain-water ever now flows. Other parts, fourteen miles below the Kuruman gardens, are pointed out as having contained, within the memory of people now living, hippopotami, and pools sufficient to drown both men and cattle. This failure of water must be chiefly ascribed to the general desiccation of the country, but partly also to the amount of irrigation carried on along both banks of the stream at the mission station. This latter circumstance would have more weight were it not coincident with the failure of fountains over a wide extent of country.
Without at present entering minutely into this feature of the climate, it may be remarked that the Kuruman district presents evidence of this dry southern region having, at no very distant date, been as well watered as the country north of Lake Ngami is now. Ancient river-beds and water-courses abound, and the very eyes of fountains long since dried up may be seen, in which the flow of centuries has worn these orifices from a slit to an oval form, having on their sides the tufa so abundantly deposited from these primitive waters; and just where the splashings, made when the stream fell on the rock below, may be supposed to have reached and evaporated, the same phenomenon appears. Many of these failing fountains no longer flow, because the brink over which they ran is now too high, or because the elevation of the western side of the country lifts the land away from the water supply below; but let a cutting be made from a lower level than the brink, and through it to a part below the surface of the water, and water flows perennially. Several of these ancient fountains have been resuscitated by the Bechuanas near Kuruman, who occasionally show their feelings of self-esteem by laboring for months at deep cuttings, which, having once begun, they feel bound in honor to persevere in, though told by a missionary that they can never force water to run up hill.
It is interesting to observe the industry of many Boers in this region in making long and deep canals from lower levels up to spots destitute of the slightest indication of water existing beneath except a few rushes and a peculiar kind of coarse, reddish-colored grass growing in a hollow, which anciently must have been the eye of a fountain, but is now filled up with soft tufa. In other instances, the indication of water below consists of the rushes growing on a long, sandy ridge a foot or two in height instead of in a furrow. A deep transverse cutting made through the higher part of this is rewarded by a stream of running water. The reason why the ground covering this water is higher than the rest of the locality is that the winds carry quantities of fine dust and sand about the country, and hedges, bushes, and trees cause its deposit. The rushes in this case perform the part of the hedges, and the moisture rising as dew by night fixes the sand securely among the roots, and a height, instead of a hollow, is the result. While on this subject it may be added that there is no perennial fountain in this part of the country except those that come from beneath the quartzose trap, which constitutes the “filling up” of the ancient valley; and as the water supply seems to rest on the old silurian schists which form its bottom, it is highly probable that Artesian wells would in several places perform the part which these deep cuttings now do.
The aspect of this part of the country during most of the year is of a light yellow color; for some months during the rainy season it is of a pleasant green mixed with yellow. Ranges of hills appear in the west, but east of them we find hundreds of miles of grass-covered plains. Large patches of these flats are covered with white calcareous tufa resting on perfectly horizontal strata of trap. There the vegetation consists of fine grass growing in tufts among low bushes of the “wait-a-bit” thorn (‘Acacia detinens’), with its annoying fish-hook-like spines. Where these rocks do not appear on the surface, the soil consists of yellow sand and tall, coarse grasses, growing among berry-yielding bushes, named moretloa (‘Grewia flava’) and mohatla (‘Tarchonanthus’), which has enough of aromatic resinous matter to burn brightly, though perfectly green. In more sheltered spots we come on clumps of the white-thorned mimosa (‘Acacia horrida’, also ‘A. atomiphylla’), and great abundance of wild sage (‘Salvia Africana’), and various leguminosae, ixias, and large-flowering bulbs: the ‘Amaryllis toxicaria’ and ‘A. Brunsvigia multiflora’ (the former a poisonous bulb) yield in the decayed lamellae a soft, silky down, a good material for stuffing mattresses.
In some few parts of the country the remains of ancient forests of wild olive-trees (‘Olea similis’) and of the camel-thorn (‘Acacia giraffe’) are still to be met with; but when these are leveled in the proximity of a Bechuana village, no young trees spring up to take their places. This is not because the wood has a growth so slow as not to be appreciable in its increase during the short period that it can be observed by man, which might be supposed from its being so excessively hard; for having measured a young tree of this species growing in the corner of Mr. Moffat’s garden near the water, I found that it increased at the rate of a quarter of an inch in diameter annually during a number of years. Moreover, the larger specimens, which now find few or no successors, if they had more rain in their youth, can not be above two or three hundred years old.
It is probable that this is the tree of which the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle were constructed, as it is reported to be found where the Israelites were at the time these were made. It is an imperishable wood, while that usually pointed out as the “shittim” (or ‘Acacia nilotica’) soon decays and wants beauty.
In association with it we always observe a curious plant, named ngotuane, which bears such a profusion of fine yellow strong-scented flowers as quite to perfume the air. This plant forms a remarkable exception to the general rule, that nearly all the plants in the dry parts of Africa are scentless, or emit only a disagreeable odor. It, moreover, contains an active poison; a French gentleman, having imbibed a mouthful or two of an infusion of its flowers as tea, found himself rendered nearly powerless. Vinegar has the peculiar property of rendering this poison perfectly inert, whether in or out of the body. When mixed with vinegar, the poison may be drunk with safety, while, if only tasted by itself, it causes a burning sensation in the throat. This gentleman described the action of the vinegar, when he was nearly deprived of power by the poison imbibed, to have been as if electricity had run along his nerves as soon as he had taken a single glassful. The cure was instantaneous and complete. I had always to regret want of opportunity for investigating this remarkable and yet controllable agent on the nervous system. Its usual proximity to camel-thorn-trees may be accounted for by the PROBABILITY that the giraffe, which feeds on this tree, MAY make use of the plant as a medicine.
During the period of my visit at Kuruman, Mr. Moffat, who has been a missionary in Africa during upward of forty years, and is well known by his interesting work, “Scenes and Labors in South Africa”, was busily engaged in carrying through the press, with which his station is furnished, the Bible in the language of the Bechuanas, which is called Sichuana. This has been a work of immense labor; and as he was the first to reduce their speech to a written form, and has had his attention directed to the study for at least thirty years, he may be supposed to be better adapted for the task than any man living. Some idea of the copiousness of the language may be formed from the fact that even he never spends a week at his work without discovering new words; the phenomenon, therefore, of any man who, after a few months’ or years’ study of a native tongue, cackles forth a torrent of vocables, may well be wondered at, if it is meant to convey instruction. In my own case, though I have had as much intercourse with the purest idiom as most Englishmen, and have studied the language carefully, yet I can never utter an important statement without doing so very slowly, and repeating it too, lest the foreign accent, which is distinctly perceptible in all Europeans, should render the sense unintelligible. In this I follow the example of the Bechuana orators, who, on important matters, always speak slowly, deliberately, and with reiteration. The capabilities of this language may be inferred from the fact that the Pentateuch is fully expressed in Mr. Moffat’s translation in fewer words than in the Greek Septuagint, and in a very considerably smaller number than in our own English version. The language is, however, so simple in its construction, that its copiousness by no means requires the explanation that the people have fallen from a former state of civilization and culture. Language seems to be an attribute of the human mind and thought; and the inflections, various as they are in the most barbarous tongues, as that of the Bushmen, are probably only proofs of the race being human, and endowed with the power of thinking; the fuller development of language taking place as the improvement of our other faculties goes on. It is fortunate that the translation of the Bible has been effected before the language became adulterated with half-uttered foreign words, and while those who have heard the eloquence of the native assemblies are still living; for the young, who are brought up in our schools, know less of the language than the missionaries; and Europeans born in the country, while possessed of the idiom perfectly, if not otherwise educated, can not be referred to for explanation of any uncommon word. A person who acted as interpreter to Sir George Cathcart actually told his excellency that the language of the Basutos was not capable of expressing the substance of a chief’s diplomatic paper, while every one acquainted with Moshesh, the chief who sent it, well knows that he could in his own tongue have expressed it without study all over again in three or four different ways. The interpreter could scarcely have done as much in English.
This language both rich and poor speak correctly; there is no vulgar style; but children have a ‘patois’ of their own, using many words in their play which men would scorn to repeat. The Bamapela have adopted a click into their dialect, and a large infusion of the ringing “ny”, which seems to have been for the purpose of preventing others from understanding them.
The fact of the complete translation of the Bible at a station seven hundred miles inland from the Cape naturally suggests the question whether it is likely to be permanently useful, and whether Christianity, as planted by modern missions, is likely to retain its vitality without constant supplies of foreign teaching? It would certainly be no cause for congratulation if the Bechuana Bible seemed at all likely to meet the fate of Elliot’s Choctaw version, a specimen of which may be seen in the library of one of the American colleges — as God’s word in a language which no living tongue can articulate, nor living mortal understand; but a better destiny seems in store for this, for the Sichuana language has been introduced into the new country beyond Lake Ngami. There it is the court language, and will take a stranger any where through a district larger than France. The Bechuanas, moreover, in all probability possess that imperishability which forms so remarkable a feature in the entire African race.
When converts are made from heathenism by modern missionaries, it becomes an interesting question whether their faith possesses the elements of permanence, or is only an exotic too tender for self-propagation when the fostering care of the foreign cultivators is withdrawn. If neither habits of self-reliance are cultivated, nor opportunities given for the exercise of that virtue, the most promising converts are apt to become like spoiled children. In Madagascar, a few Christians were left with nothing but the Bible in their hands; and though exposed to persecution, and even death itself, as the penalty of adherence to their profession, they increased ten-fold in numbers, and are, if possible, more decided believers now than they were when, by an edict of the queen of that island, the missionaries ceased their teaching.
In South Africa such an experiment could not be made, for such a variety of Christian sects have followed the footsteps of the London Missionary Society’s successful career, that converts of one denomination, if left to their own resources, are eagerly adopted by another, and are thus more likely to become spoiled than trained to the manly Christian virtues.
Another element of weakness in this part of the missionary field is the fact of the missionary societies considering the Cape Colony itself as a proper sphere for their peculiar operations. In addition to a well-organized and efficient Dutch Reformed Established Church, and schools for secular instruction, maintained by government, in every village of any extent in the colony, we have a number of other sects, as the Wesleyans, Episcopalians, Moravians, all piously laboring at the same good work. Now it is deeply to be regretted that so much honest zeal should be so lavishly expended in a district wherein there is so little scope for success. When we hear an agent of one sect urging his friends at home to aid him quickly to occupy some unimportant nook, because, if it is not speedily laid hold of, he will “not have room for the sole of his foot,” one can not help longing that both he and his friends would direct their noble aspirations to the millions of untaught heathen in the regions beyond, and no longer continue to convert the extremity of the continent into, as it were, a dam of benevolence.
I would earnestly recommend all young missionaries to go at once to the real heathen, and never to be content with what has been made ready to their hands by men of greater enterprise. The idea of making model Christians of the young need not be entertained by any one who is secretly convinced, as most men who know their own hearts are, that he is not a model Christian himself. The Israelitish slaves brought out of Egypt by Moses were not converted and elevated in one generation, though under the direct teaching of God himself. Notwithstanding the numbers of miracles he wrought, a generation had to be cut off because of unbelief. Our own elevation, also, has been the work of centuries, and, remembering this, we should not indulge in overwrought expectations as to the elevation which those who have inherited the degradation of ages may attain in our day. The principle might even be adopted by missionary societies, that one ordinary missionary’s lifetime of teaching should be considered an ample supply of foreign teaching for any tribe in a thinly-peopled country, for some never will receive the Gospel at all, while in other parts, when Christianity is once planted, the work is sure to go on. A missionary is soon known to be supported by his friends at home; and though the salary is but a bare subsistence, to Africans it seems an enormous sum; and, being unable to appreciate the motives by which he is actuated, they consider themselves entitled to various services at his hands, and defrauded if these are not duly rendered. This feeling is all the stronger when a young man, instead of going boldly to the real heathen, settles down in a comfortable house and garden prepared by those into whose labors he has entered. A remedy for this evil might be found in appropriating the houses and gardens raised by the missionaries’ hands to their own families. It is ridiculous to call such places as Kuruman, for instance, “Missionary Society’s property”. This beautiful station was made what it is, not by English money, but by the sweat and toil of fathers whose children have, notwithstanding, no place on earth which they can call a home. The Society’s operations may be transferred to the north, and then the strong-built mission premises become the home of a Boer, and the stately stone church his cattle-pen. This place has been what the monasteries of Europe are said to have been when pure. The monks did not disdain to hold the plow. They introduced fruit-trees, flowers, and vegetables, in addition to teaching and emancipating the serfs. Their monasteries were mission stations, which resembled ours in being dispensaries for the sick, almshouses for the poor, and nurseries of learning. Can we learn nothing from them in their prosperity as the schools of Europe, and see naught in their history but the pollution and laziness of their decay? Can our wise men tell us why the former mission stations (primitive monasteries) were self-supporting, rich, and flourishing as pioneers of civilization and agriculture, from which we even now reap benefits, and modern mission stations are mere pauper establishments, without that permanence or ability to be self-supporting which they possessed?
Protestant missionaries of every denomination in South Africa all agree in one point, that no mere profession of Christianity is sufficient to entitle the converts to the Christian name. They are all anxious to place the Bible in the hands of the natives, and, with ability to read that, there can be little doubt as to the future. We believe Christianity to be divine, and equal to all it has to perform; then let the good seed be widely sown, and, no matter to what sect the converts may belong, the harvest will be glorious. Let nothing that I have said be interpreted as indicative of feelings inimical to any body of Christians, for I never, as a missionary, felt myself to be either Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Independent, or called upon in any way to love one denomination less than another. My earnest desire is, that those who really have the best interests of the heathen at heart should go to them; and assuredly, in Africa at least, self-denying labors among real heathen will not fail to be appreciated. Christians have never yet dealt fairly by the heathen and been disappointed.
When Sechele understood that we could no longer remain with him at Kolobeng, he sent his children to Mr. Moffat, at Kuruman, for instruction in all the knowledge of the white men. Mr. Moffat very liberally received at once an accession of five to his family, with their attendants.
Having been detained at Kuruman about a fortnight by the breaking of a wagon-wheel, I was thus providentially prevented from being present at the attack of the Boers on the Bakwains, news of which was brought, about the end of that time, by Masebele, the wife of Sechele. She had herself been hidden in a cleft of a rock, over which a number of Boers were firing. Her infant began to cry, and, terrified lest this should attract the attention of the men, the muzzles of whose guns appeared at every discharge over her head, she took off her armlets as playthings to quiet the child. She brought Mr. Moffat a letter, which tells its own tale. Nearly literally translated it was as follows:
“Friend of my heart’s love, and of all the confidence of my heart, I am Sechele. I am undone by the Boers, who attacked me, though I had no guilt with them. They demanded that I should be in their kingdom, and I refused. They demanded that I should prevent the English and Griquas from passing (northward). I replied, These are my friends, and I can prevent no one (of them). They came on Saturday, and I besought them not to fight on Sunday, and they assented. They began on Monday morning at twilight, and fired with all their might, and burned the town with fire, and scattered us. They killed sixty of my people, and captured women, and children, and men. And the mother of Baleriling (a former wife of Sechele) they also took prisoner. They took all the cattle and all the goods of the Bakwains; and the house of Livingstone they plundered, taking away all his goods. The number of wagons they had was eighty-five, and a cannon; and after they had stolen my own wagon and that of Macabe, then the number of their wagons (counting the cannon as one) was eighty-eight. All the goods of the hunters (certain English gentlemen hunting and exploring in the north) were burned in the town; and of the Boers were killed twenty-eight. Yes, my beloved friend, now my wife goes to see the children, and Kobus Hae will convey her to you.
I am, SECHELE,
The Son of Mochoasele.”
This statement is in exact accordance with the account given by the native teacher Mebalwe, and also that sent by some of the Boers themselves to the public colonial papers. The crime of cattle-stealing, of which we hear so much near Caffreland, was never alleged against these people, and, if a single case had occurred when I was in the country, I must have heard of it, and would at once say so. But the only crime imputed in the papers was that “Sechele was getting too saucy.” The demand made for his subjection and service in preventing the English traders passing to the north was kept out of view.
Very soon after Pretorius had sent the marauding party against Kolobeng, he was called away to the tribunal of infinite justice. His policy is justified by the Boers generally from the instructions given to the Jewish warriors in Deuteronomy 20:10–14. Hence, when he died, the obituary notice ended with “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” I wish he had not “forbidden us to preach unto the Gentiles that they may be saved.”
The report of this outrage on the Bakwains, coupled with denunciations against myself for having, as it was alleged, taught them to kill Boers, produced such a panic in the country, that I could not engage a single servant to accompany me to the north. I have already alluded to their mode of warfare, and in all previous Boerish forays the killing had all been on one side; now, however, that a tribe where an Englishman had lived had begun to shed THEIR blood as well, it was considered the strongest presumptive evidence against me. Loud vows of vengeance were uttered against my head, and threats of instant pursuit by a large party on horseback, should I dare to go into or beyond their country; and as these were coupled with the declaration that the English government had given over the whole of the native tribes to their rule, and would assist in their entire subjection by preventing fire-arms and ammunition from entering the country, except for the use of the Boers, it was not to be wondered at that I was detained for months at Kuruman from sheer inability to get wagon-drivers. The English name, from being honored and respected all over the country, had become somewhat more than suspected; and as the policy of depriving those friendly tribes of the means of defense was represented by the Boers as proof positive of the wish of the English that they should be subjugated, the conduct of a government which these tribes always thought the paragon of justice and friendship was rendered totally incomprehensible to them; they could neither defend themselves against their enemies, nor shoot the animals in the produce of which we wished them to trade.
At last I found three servants willing to risk a journey to the north; and a man of color named George Fleming, who had generously been assisted by Mr. H. E. Rutherford, a mercantile gentleman of Cape Town, to endeavor to establish a trade with the Makololo, had also managed to get a similar number; we accordingly left Kuruman on the 20th of November, and proceeded on our journey. Our servants were the worst possible specimens of those who imbibe the vices without the virtues of Europeans, but we had no choice, and were glad to get away on any terms.
When we reached Motito, forty miles off, we met Sechele on his way, as he said, “to the Queen of England.” Two of his own children, and their mother, a former wife, were among the captives seized by the Boers; and being strongly imbued with the then very prevalent notion of England’s justice and generosity, he thought that in consequence of the violated treaty he had a fair case to lay before her majesty. He employed all his eloquence and powers of persuasion to induce me to accompany him, but I excused myself on the ground that my arrangements were already made for exploring the north. On explaining the difficulties of the way, and endeavoring to dissuade him from the attempt, on account of the knowledge I possessed of the governor’s policy, he put the pointed question, “Will the queen not listen to me, supposing I should reach her?” I replied, “I believe she would listen, but the difficulty is to get to her.” “Well, I shall reach her,” expressed his final determination. Others explained the difficulties more fully, but nothing could shake his resolution. When he reached Bloemfontein he found the English army just returning from a battle with the Basutos, in which both parties claimed the victory, and both were glad that a second engagement was not tried. Our officers invited Sechele to dine with them, heard his story, and collected a handsome sum of money to enable him to pursue his journey to England. The commander refrained from noticing him, as a single word in favor of the restoration of the children of Sechele would have been a virtual confession of the failure of his own policy at the very outset. Sechele proceeded as far as the Cape; but his resources being there expended, he was obliged to return to his own country, one thousand miles distant, without accomplishing the object of his journey.
On his return he adopted a mode of punishment which he had seen in the colony, namely, making criminals work on the public roads. And he has since, I am informed, made himself the missionary to his own people. He is tall, rather corpulent, and has more of the negro feature than common, but has large eyes. He is very dark, and his people swear by “Black Sechele”. He has great intelligence, reads well, and is a fluent speaker. Great numbers of the tribes formerly living under the Boers have taken refuge under his sway, and he is now greater in power than he was before the attack on Kolobeng.
Having parted with Sechele, we skirted along the Kalahari Desert, and sometimes within its borders, giving the Boers a wide berth. A larger fall of rain than usual had occurred in 1852, and that was the completion of a cycle of eleven or twelve years, at which the same phenomenon is reported to have happened on three occasions. An unusually large crop of melons had appeared in consequence. We had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. J. Macabe returning from Lake Ngami, which he had succeeded in reaching by going right across the Desert from a point a little to the south of Kolobeng. The accounts of the abundance of watermelons were amply confirmed by this energetic traveler; for, having these in vast quantities, his cattle subsisted on the fluid contained in them for a period of no less than twenty-one days; and when at last they reached a supply of water, they did not seem to care much about it. Coming to the lake from the southeast, he crossed the Teoughe, and went round the northern part of it, and is the only European traveler who had actually seen it all. His estimate of the extent of the lake is higher than that given by Mr. Oswell and myself, or from about ninety to one hundred miles in circumference. Before the lake was discovered, Macabe wrote a letter in one of the Cape papers recommending a certain route as likely to lead to it. The Transvaal Boers fined him $500 for writing about “ouze felt”, OUR country, and imprisoned him, too, till the fine was paid. I now learned from his own lips that the public report of this is true. Mr. Macabe’s companion, Mahar, was mistaken by a tribe of Barolongs for a Boer, and shot as he approached their village. When Macabe came up and explained that he was an Englishman, they expressed the utmost regret, and helped to bury him. This was the first case in recent times of an Englishman being slain by the Bechuanas. We afterward heard that there had been some fighting between these Barolongs and the Boers, and that there had been capturing of cattle on both sides. If this was true, I can only say that it was the first time that I ever heard of cattle being taken by Bechuanas. This was a Caffre war in stage the second; the third stage in the development is when both sides are equally well armed and afraid of each other; the fourth, when the English take up a quarrel not their own, and the Boers slip out of the fray.
Two other English gentlemen crossed and recrossed the Desert about the same time, and nearly in the same direction. On returning, one of them, Captain Shelley, while riding forward on horseback, lost himself, and was obliged to find his way alone to Kuruman, some hundreds of miles distant. Reaching that station shirtless, and as brown as a Griqua, he was taken for one by Mrs. Moffat, and was received by her with a salutation in Dutch, that being the language spoken by this people. His sufferings must have been far more severe than any we endured. The result of the exertions of both Shelley and Macabe is to prove that the general view of the Desert always given by the natives has been substantially correct.
Occasionally, during the very dry seasons which succeed our winter and precede our rains, a hot wind blows over the Desert from north to south. It feels somewhat as if it came from an oven, and seldom blows longer at a time than three days. It resembles in its effects the harmattan of the north of Africa, and at the time the missionaries first settled in the country, thirty-five years ago, it came loaded with fine reddish-colored sand. Though no longer accompanied by sand, it is so devoid of moisture as to cause the wood of the best seasoned English boxes and furniture to shrink, so that every wooden article not made in the country is warped. The verls of ramrods made in England are loosened, and on returning to Europe fasten again. This wind is in such an electric state that a bunch of ostrich feathers held a few seconds against it becomes as strongly charged as if attached to a powerful electrical machine, and clasps the advancing hand with a sharp crackling sound.
When this hot wind is blowing, and even at other times, the peculiarly strong electrical state of the atmosphere causes the movement of a native in his kaross to produce therein a stream of small sparks. The first time I noticed this appearance was while a chief was traveling with me in my wagon. Seeing part of the fur of his mantle, which was exposed to slight friction by the movement of the wagon, assume quite a luminous appearance, I rubbed it smartly with the hand, and found it readily gave out bright sparks, accompanied with distinct cracks. “Don’t you see this?” said I. “The white men did not show us this,” he replied; “we had it long before white men came into the country, we and our forefathers of old.” Unfortunately, I never inquired the name which they gave to this appearance, but I have no doubt there is one for it in the language. Otto von Guerrike is said, by Baron Humboldt, to have been the first that ever observed this effect in Europe, but the phenomenon had been familiar to the Bechuanas for ages. Nothing came of that, however, for they viewed the sight as if with the eyes of an ox. The human mind has remained here as stagnant to the present day, in reference to the physical operations of the universe, as it once did in England. No science has been developed, and few questions are ever discussed except those which have an intimate connection with the wants of the stomach.
Very large flocks of swifts (‘Cypselus apus’) were observed flying over the plains north of Kuruman. I counted a stream of them, which, by the time it took to pass toward the reeds of that valley, must have numbered upward of four thousand. Only a few of these birds breed at any time in this country. I have often observed them, and noticed that there was no appearance of their having paired; there was no chasing of each other, nor any playing together. There are several other birds which continue in flocks, and move about like wandering gipsies, even during the breeding season, which in this country happens in the intervals between the cold and hot seasons, cold acting somewhat in the same way here as the genial warmth of spring does in Europe. Are these the migratory birds of Europe, which return there to breed and rear their young?
On the 31st of December, 1852, we reached the town of Sechele, called, from the part of the range on which it is situated, Litubaruba. Near the village there exists a cave named Lepelole; it is an interesting evidence of the former existence of a gushing fountain. No one dared to enter the Lohaheng, or cave, for it was the common belief that it was the habitation of the Deity. As we never had a holiday from January to December, and our Sundays were the periods of our greatest exertions in teaching, I projected an excursion into the cave on a week-day to see the god of the Bakwains. The old men said that every one who went in remained there forever, adding, “If the teacher is so mad as to kill himself, let him do so alone, we shall not be to blame.” The declaration of Sechele, that he would follow where I led, produced the greatest consternation. It is curious that in all their pretended dreams or visions of their god he has always a crooked leg, like the Egyptian Thau. Supposing that those who were reported to have perished in this cave had fallen over some precipice, we went well provided with lights, ladder, lines, &c.; but it turned out to be only an open cave, with an entrance about ten feet square, which contracts into two water-worn branches, ending in round orifices through which the water once flowed. The only inhabitants it seems ever to have had were baboons. I left at the end of the upper branch one of Father Mathew’s leaden teetotal tickets.
I never saw the Bakwains looking so haggard and lean as at this time. Most of their cattle had been swept away by the Boers, together with about eighty fine draught oxen; and much provision left with them by two officers, Captains Codrington and Webb, to serve for their return journey south, had been carried off also. On their return these officers found the skeletons of the Bakwains where they expected to find their own goods. All the corn, clothing, and furniture of the people, too, had been consumed in the flames which the Boers had forced the subject tribes to apply to the town during the fight, so that its inhabitants were now literally starving.
Sechele had given orders to his people not to commit any act of revenge pending his visit to the Queen of England; but some of the young men ventured to go to meet a party of Boers returning from hunting, and, as the Boers became terrified and ran off, they brought their wagons to Litubaruba. This seems to have given the main body of Boers an idea that the Bakwains meant to begin a guerrilla war upon them. This “Caffre war” was, however, only in embryo, and not near that stage of development in which the natives have found out that the hide-and-seek system is the most successful.
The Boers, in alarm, sent four of their number to ask for peace! I, being present, heard the condition: “Sechele’s children must be restored to him.” I never saw men so completely and unconsciously in a trap as these four Boers were. Strong parties of armed Bakwains occupied every pass in the hills and gorges around; and had they not promised much more than they intended, or did perform, that day would have been their last. The commandant Scholz had appropriated the children of Sechele to be his own domestic slaves. I was present when one little boy, Khari, son of Sechele, was returned to his mother; the child had been allowed to roll into the fire, and there were three large unbound open sores on different parts of his body. His mother and the women received him with a flood of silent tears.
Slavery is said to be mild and tender-hearted in some places. The Boers assert that they are the best of masters, and that, if the English had possessed the Hottentot slaves, they would have received much worse treatment than they did: what that would have been it is difficult to imagine. I took down the names of some scores of boys and girls, many of whom I knew as our scholars; but I could not comfort the weeping mothers by any hope of their ever returning from slavery.
The Bechuanas are universally much attached to children. A little child toddling near a party of men while they are eating is sure to get a handful of the food. This love of children may arise, in a great measure, from the patriarchal system under which they dwell. Every little stranger forms an increase of property to the whole community, and is duly reported to the chief — boys being more welcome than girls. The parents take the name of the child, and often address their children as Ma (mother), or Ra (father). Our eldest boy being named Robert, Mrs. Livingstone was, after his birth, always addressed as Ma–Robert, instead of Mary, her Christian name.
I have examined several cases in which a grandmother has taken upon herself to suckle a grandchild. Masina of Kuruman had no children after the birth of her daughter Sina, and had no milk after Sina was weaned, an event which usually is deferred till the child is two or three years old. Sina married when she was seventeen or eighteen, and had twins; Masina, after at least fifteen years’ interval since she had suckled a child, took possession of one of them, applied it to her breast, and milk flowed, so that she was able to nurse the child entirely. Masina was at this time at least forty years of age. I have witnessed several other cases analogous to this. A grandmother of forty, or even less, for they become withered at an early age, when left at home with a young child, applies it to her own shriveled breast, and milk soon follows. In some cases, as that of Ma-bogosing, the chief wife of Mahure, who was about thirty-five years of age, the child was not entirely dependent on the grandmother’s breast, as the mother suckled it too. I had witnessed the production of milk so frequently by the simple application of the lips of the child, that I was not therefore surprised when told by the Portuguese in Eastern Africa of a native doctor who, by applying a poultice of the pounded larvae of hornets to the breast of a woman, aided by the attempts of the child, could bring back the milk. Is it not possible that the story in the “Cloud of Witnesses” of a man, during the time of persecution in Scotland, putting his child to his own breast, and finding, to the astonishment of the whole country, that milk followed the act, may have been literally true? It was regarded and is quoted as a miracle; but the feelings of the father toward the child of a murdered mother must have been as nearly as possible analogous to the maternal feeling; and, as anatomists declare the structure of both male and female breasts to be identical, there is nothing physically impossible in the alleged result. The illustrious Baron Humboldt quotes an instance of the male breast yielding milk; and, though I am not conscious of being over-credulous, the strange instances I have examined in the opposite sex make me believe that there is no error in that philosopher’s statement.
The Boers know from experience that adult captives may as well be left alone, for escape is so easy in a wild country that no fugitive-slave-law can come into operation; they therefore adopt the system of seizing only the youngest children, in order that these may forget their parents and remain in perpetual bondage. I have seen mere infants in their houses repeatedly. This fact was formerly denied; and the only thing which was wanting to make the previous denial of the practice of slavery and slave-hunting by the Transvaal Boers no longer necessary was the declaration of their independence.
In conversation with some of my friends here I learned that Maleke, a chief of the Bakwains, who formerly lived on the hill Litubaruba, had been killed by the bite of a mad dog. My curiosity was strongly excited by this statement, as rabies is so rare in this country. I never heard of another case, and could not satisfy myself that even this was real hydrophobia. While I was at Mabotsa, some dogs became affected by a disease which led them to run about in an incoherent state; but I doubt whether it was any thing but an affection of the brain. No individual or animal got the complaint by inoculation from the animals’ teeth; and from all that I could hear, the prevailing idea of hydrophobia not existing within the tropics seems to be quite correct.
The diseases known among the Bakwains are remarkably few. There is no consumption nor scrofula, and insanity and hydrocephalus are rare. Cancer and cholera are quite unknown. Small-pox and measles passed through the country about twenty years ago, and committed great ravages; but, though the former has since broken out on the coast repeatedly, neither disease has since traveled inland. For small-pox, the natives employed, in some parts, inoculation in the forehead with some animal deposit; in other parts, they employed the matter of the small-pox itself; and in one village they seem to have selected a virulent case for the matter used in the operation, for nearly all the village was swept off by the disease in a malignant confluent form. Where the idea came from I can not conceive. It was practiced by the Bakwains at a time when they had no intercourse, direct or indirect, with the southern missionaries. They all adopt readily the use of vaccine virus when it is brought within their reach.
A certain loathsome disease, which decimates the North American Indians, and threatens extirpation to the South Sea Islanders, dies out in the interior of Africa without the aid of medicine; and the Bangwaketse, who brought it from the west coast, lost it when they came into their own land southwest of Kolobeng. It seems incapable of permanence in any form in persons of pure African blood any where in the centre of the country. In persons of mixed blood it is otherwise; and the virulence of the secondary symptoms seemed to be, in all the cases that came under my care, in exact proportion to the greater or less amount of European blood in the patient. Among the Corannas and Griquas of mixed breed it produces the same ravages as in Europe; among half-blood Portuguese it is equally frightful in its inroads on the system; but in the pure Negro of the central parts it is quite incapable of permanence. Among the Barotse I found a disease called manassah, which closely resembles that of the ‘foeda mulier’ of history.
Equally unknown is stone in the bladder and gravel. I never met with a case, though the waters are often so strongly impregnated with sulphate of lime that kettles quickly become incrusted internally with the salt; and some of my patients, who were troubled with indigestion, believed that their stomachs had got into the same condition. This freedom from calculi would appear to be remarkable in the negro race, even in the United States; for seldom indeed have the most famed lithotomists there ever operated on a negro.
The diseases most prevalent are the following: pneumonia, produced by sudden changes of temperature, and other inflammations, as of the bowels, stomach, and pleura; rheumatism; disease of the heart — but these become rare as the people adopt the European dress — various forms of indigestion and ophthalmia; hooping-cough comes frequently; and every year the period preceding the rains is marked by some sort of epidemic. Sometimes it is general ophthalmia, resembling closely the Egyptian. In another year it is a kind of diarrhoea, which nothing will cure until there is a fall of rain, and any thing acts as a charm after that. One year the epidemic period was marked by a disease which looked like pneumonia, but had the peculiar symptom strongly developed of great pain in the seventh cervical process. Many persons died of it, after being in a comatose state for many hours or days before their decease. No inspection of the body being ever allowed by these people, and the place of sepulture being carefully concealed, I had to rest satisfied with conjecture. Frequently the Bakwains buried their dead in the huts where they died, for fear lest the witches (Baloi) should disinter their friends, and use some part of the body in their fiendish arts. Scarcely is the breath out of the body when the unfortunate patient is hurried away to be buried. An ant-eater’s hole is often selected, in order to save the trouble of digging a grave. On two occasions while I was there this hasty burial was followed by the return home of the men, who had been buried alive, to their affrighted relatives. They had recovered, while in their graves, from prolonged swoons.
In ophthalmia the doctors cup on the temples, and apply to the eyes the pungent smoke of certain roots, the patient, at the same time, taking strong draughts of it up his nostrils. We found the solution of nitrate of silver, two or three grains to the ounce of rain-water, answer the same end so much more effectually, that every morning numbers of patients crowded round our house for the collyrium. It is a good preventive of an acute attack when poured into the eyes as soon as the pain begins, and might prove valuable for travelers. Cupping is performed with the horn of a goat or antelope, having a little hole pierced in the small end. In some cases a small piece of wax is attached, and a temporary hole made through it to the horn. When the air is well withdrawn, and kept out by touching the orifice, at every inspiration, with the point of the tongue, the wax is at last pressed together with the teeth, and the little hole in it closed up, leaving a vacuum within the horn for the blood to flow from the already scarified parts. The edges of the horn applied to the surface are wetted, and cupping is well performed, though the doctor occasionally, by separating the fibrine from the blood in a basin of water by his side, and exhibiting it, pretends that he has extracted something more than blood. He can thus explain the rationale of the cure by his own art, and the ocular demonstration given is well appreciated.
Those doctors who have inherited their profession as an heirloom from their fathers and grandfathers generally possess some valuable knowledge, the result of long and close observation; but if a man can not say that the medical art is in his family, he may be considered a quack. With the regular practitioners I always remained on the best terms, by refraining from appearing to doubt their skill in the presence of their patients. Any explanation in private was thankfully received by them, and wrong treatment changed into something more reasonable with cordial good-will, if no one but the doctor and myself were present at the conversation. English medicines were eagerly asked for and accepted by all; and we always found medical knowledge an important aid in convincing the people that we were really anxious for their welfare. We can not accuse them of ingratitude; in fact, we shall remember the kindness of the Bakwains to us as long as we live.
The surgical knowledge of the native doctors is rather at a low ebb. No one ever attempted to remove a tumor except by external applications. Those with which the natives are chiefly troubled are fatty and fibrous tumors; and as they all have the ‘vis medicatrix naturae’ in remarkable activity, I safely removed an immense number. In illustration of their want of surgical knowledge may be mentioned the case of a man who had a tumor as large as a child’s head. This was situated on the nape of his neck, and prevented his walking straight. He applied to his chief, and he got some famous strange doctor from the East Coast to cure him. He and his assistants attempted to dissolve it by kindling on it a little fire made of a few small pieces of medicinal roots. I removed it for him, and he always walked with his head much more erect than he needed to do ever afterward. Both men and women submit to an operation without wincing, or any of that shouting which caused young students to faint in the operating theatre before the introduction of chloroform. The women pride themselves on their ability to bear pain. A mother will address her little girl, from whose foot a thorn is to be extracted, with, “Now, ma, you are a woman; a woman does not cry.” A man scorns to shed tears. When we were passing one of the deep wells in the Kalahari, a boy, the son of an aged father, had been drowned in it while playing on its brink. When all hope was gone, the father uttered an exceedingly great and bitter cry. It was sorrow without hope. This was the only instance I ever met with of a man weeping in this country.
Their ideas on obstetrics are equally unscientific, and a medical man going near a woman at her confinement appeared to them more out of place than a female medical student appears to us in a dissecting-room. A case of twins, however, happening, and the ointment of all the doctors of the town proving utterly insufficient to effect the relief which a few seconds of English art afforded, the prejudice vanished at once. As it would have been out of the question for me to have entered upon this branch of the profession — as indeed it would be inexpedient for any medical man to devote himself exclusively, in a thinly-peopled country, to the practice of medicine — I thereafter reserved myself for the difficult cases only, and had the satisfaction of often conferring great benefits on poor women in their hour of sorrow. The poor creatures are often placed in a little hut built for the purpose, and are left without any assistance whatever, and the numbers of umbilical herniae which are met with in consequence is very great. The women suffer less at their confinement than is the case in civilized countries; perhaps from their treating it, not as a disease, but as an operation of nature, requiring no change of diet except a feast of meat and abundance of fresh air. The husband on these occasions is bound to slaughter for his lady an ox, or goat, or sheep, according to his means.
My knowledge in the above line procured for me great fame in a department in which I could lay no claim to merit. A woman came a distance of one hundred miles for relief in a complaint which seemed to have baffled the native doctors; a complete cure was the result. Some twelve months after she returned to her husband, she bore a son. Her husband having previously reproached her for being barren, she sent me a handsome present, and proclaimed all over the country that I possessed a medicine for the cure of sterility. The consequence was, that I was teased with applications from husbands and wives from all parts of the country. Some came upward of two hundred miles to purchase the great boon, and it was in vain for me to explain that I had only cured the disease of the other case. The more I denied, the higher their offers rose; they would give any money for the “child medicine”; and it was really heart-rending to hear the earnest entreaty, and see the tearful eye, which spoke the intense desire for offspring: “I am getting old; you see gray hairs here and there on my head, and I have no child; you know how Bechuana husbands cast their old wives away; what can I do? I have no child to bring water to me when I am sick,” etc.
The whole of the country adjacent to the Desert, from Kuruman to Kolobeng, or Litubaruba, and beyond up to the latitude of Lake Ngami, is remarkable for its great salubrity of climate. Not only the natives, but Europeans whose constitutions have been impaired by an Indian climate, find the tract of country indicated both healthy and restorative. The health and longevity of the missionaries have always been fair, though mission-work is not very conducive to either elsewhere. Cases have been known in which patients have come from the coast with complaints closely resembling, if they were not actually, those of consumption; and they have recovered by the influence of the climate alone. It must always be borne in mind that the climate near the coast, from which we received such very favorable reports of the health of the British troops, is actually inferior for persons suffering from pulmonary complaints to that of any part not subjected to the influence of sea-air. I have never seen the beneficial effects of the inland climate on persons of shattered constitutions, nor heard their high praises of the benefit they have derived from traveling, without wishing that its bracing effects should become more extensively known in England. No one who has visited the region I have above mentioned fails to remember with pleasure the wild, healthful gipsy life of wagon-traveling.
A considerable proportion of animal diet seems requisite here. Independent of the want of salt, we required meat in as large quantity daily as we do in England, and no bad effects, in the way of biliousness, followed the free use of flesh, as in other hot climates. A vegetable diet causes acidity and heartburn.
Mr. Oswell thought this climate much superior to that of Peru, as far as pleasure is concerned; the want of instruments unfortunately prevented my obtaining accurate scientific data for the medical world on this subject; and were it not for the great expense of such a trip, I should have no hesitation in recommending the borders of the Kalahari Desert as admirably suited for all patients having pulmonary complaints. It is the complete antipodes to our cold, damp, English climate. The winter is perfectly dry; and as not a drop of rain falls during that period, namely, from the beginning of May to the end of August, damp and cold are never combined. However hot the day may have been at Kolobeng — and the thermometer sometimes rose, previous to a fall of rain, up to 96° in the coolest part of our house — yet the atmosphere never has that steamy feeling nor those debilitating effects so well known in India and on the coast of Africa itself. In the evenings the air becomes deliciously cool, and a pleasant refreshing night follows the hottest day. The greatest heat ever felt is not so oppressive as it is when there is much humidity in the air; and the great evaporation consequent on a fall of rain makes the rainy season the most agreeable for traveling. Nothing can exceed the balmy feeling of the evenings and mornings during the whole year. You wish for an increase neither of cold nor heat; and you can sit out of doors till midnight without ever thinking of colds or rheumatism; or you may sleep out at night, looking up to the moon till you fall asleep, without a thought or sign of moon-blindness. Indeed, during many months there is scarcely any dew.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52