Departure from the Country of the Bakwains — Large black Ant — Land Tortoises — Diseases of wild Animals — Habits of old Lions — Cowardice of the Lion — Its Dread of a Snare — Major Vardon’s Note — The Roar of the Lion resembles the Cry of the Ostrich — Seldom attacks full-grown Animals — Buffaloes and Lions — Mice — Serpents — Treading on one — Venomous and harmless Varieties — Fascination — Sekomi’s Ideas of Honesty — Ceremony of the Sechu for Boys — The Boyale for young Women — Bamangwato Hills — The Unicorn’s Pass — The Country beyond — Grain — Scarcity of Water — Honorable Conduct of English Gentlemen — Gordon Cumming’s hunting Adventures — A Word of Advice for young Sportsmen — Bushwomen drawing Water — Ostrich — Silly Habit — Paces — Eggs — Food.
Having remained five days with the wretched Bakwains, seeing the effects of war, of which only a very inadequate idea can ever be formed by those who have not been eye-witnesses of its miseries, we prepared to depart on the 15th of January, 1853. Several dogs, in better condition by far than any of the people, had taken up their residence at the water. No one would own them; there they had remained, and, coming on the trail of the people, long after their departure from the scene of conflict, it was plain they had
“Held o’er the dead their carnival.”
Hence the disgust with which they were viewed.
On our way from Khopong, along the ancient river-bed which forms the pathway to Boatlanama, I found a species of cactus, being the third I have seen in the country, namely, one in the colony with a bright red flower, one at Lake Ngami, the flower of which was liver-colored, and the present one, flower unknown. That the plant is uncommon may be inferred from the fact that the Bakwains find so much difficulty in recognizing the plant again after having once seen it, that they believe it has the power of changing its locality.
On the 21st of January we reached the wells of Boatlanama, and found them for the first time empty. Lopepe, which I had formerly seen a stream running from a large reedy pool, was also dry. The hot salt spring of Serinane, east of Lopepe, being undrinkable, we pushed on to Mashue for its delicious waters. In traveling through this country, the olfactory nerves are frequently excited by a strong disagreeable odor. This is caused by a large jet-black ant named “Leshonya”. It is nearly an inch in length, and emits a pungent smell when alarmed, in the same manner as the skunk. The scent must be as volatile as ether, for, on irritating the insect with a stick six feet long, the odor is instantly perceptible.
Occasionally we lighted upon land tortoises, which, with their unlaid eggs, make a very agreeable dish. We saw many of their trails leading to the salt fountain; they must have come great distances for this health-giving article. In lieu thereof they often devour wood-ashes. It is wonderful how this reptile holds its place in the country. When seen, it never escapes. The young are taken for the sake of their shells; these are made into boxes, which, filled with sweet-smelling roots, the women hang around their persons. When older it is used as food, and the shell converted into a rude basin to hold food or water. It owes its continuance neither to speed nor cunning. Its color, yellow and dark brown, is well adapted, by its similarity to the surrounding grass and brushwood, to render it indistinguishable; and, though it makes an awkward attempt to run on the approach of man, its trust is in its bony covering, from which even the teeth of a hyaena glance off foiled. When this long-lived creature is about to deposit her eggs, she lets herself into the ground by throwing the earth up round her shell, until only the top is visible; then covering up the eggs, she leaves them until the rains begin to fall and the fresh herbage appears; the young ones then come out, their shells still quite soft, and, unattended by their dam, begin the world for themselves. Their food is tender grass and a plant named thotona, and they frequently resort to heaps of ashes and places containing efflorescence of the nitrates for the salts these contain.
Inquiries among the Bushmen and Bakalahari, who are intimately acquainted with the habits of the game, lead to the belief that many diseases prevail among wild animals. I have seen the kokong or gnu, kama or hartebeest, the tsessebe, kukama, and the giraffe, so mangy as to be uneatable even by the natives. Reference has already been made to the peripneumonia which cuts off horses, tolos or koodoos. Great numbers also of zebras are found dead with masses of foam at the nostrils, exactly as occurs in the common “horse-sickness”. The production of the malignant carbuncle called kuatsi, or selonda, by the flesh when eaten, is another proof of the disease of the tame and wild being identical. I once found a buffalo blind from ophthalmia standing by the fountain Otse; when he attempted to run he lifted up his feet in the manner peculiar to blind animals. The rhinoceros has often worms on the conjunction of his eyes; but these are not the cause of the dimness of vision which will make him charge past a man who has wounded him, if he stands perfectly still, in the belief that his enemy is a tree. It probably arises from the horn being in the line of vision, for the variety named kuabaoba, which has a straight horn directed downward away from that line, possesses acute eyesight, and is much more wary.
All the wild animals are subject to intestinal worms besides. I have observed bunches of a tape-like thread and short worms of enlarged sizes in the rhinoceros. The zebra and elephants are seldom without them, and a thread-worm may often be seen under the peritoneum of these animals. Short red larvae, which convey a stinging sensation to the hand, are seen clustering round the orifice of the windpipe (trachea) of this animal at the back of the throat; others are seen in the frontal sinus of antelopes; and curious flat, leech-like worms, with black eyes, are found in the stomachs of leches. The zebra, giraffe, eland, and kukama have been seen mere skeletons from decay of their teeth as well as from disease.
The carnivora, too, become diseased and mangy; lions become lean and perish miserably by reason of the decay of the teeth. When a lion becomes too old to catch game, he frequently takes to killing goats in the villages; a woman or child happening to go out at night falls a prey too; and as this is his only source of subsistence now, he continues it. From this circumstance has arisen the idea that the lion, when he has once tasted human flesh, loves it better than any other. A man-eater is invariably an old lion; and when he overcomes his fear of man so far as to come to villages for goats, the people remark, “His teeth are worn, he will soon kill men.” They at once acknowledge the necessity of instant action, and turn out to kill him. When living far away from population, or when, as is the case in some parts, he entertains a wholesome dread of the Bushmen and Bakalahari, as soon as either disease or old age overtakes him, he begins to catch mice and other small rodents, and even to eat grass; the natives, observing undigested vegetable matter in his droppings, follow up his trail in the certainty of finding him scarcely able to move under some tree, and dispatch him without difficulty. The grass may have been eaten as medicine, as is observed in dogs.
That the fear of man often remains excessively strong in the carnivora is proved from well-authenticated cases in which the lioness, in the vicinity of towns where the large game had been unexpectedly driven away by fire-arms, has been known to assuage the paroxysms of hunger by devouring her own young. It must be added, that, though the effluvium which is left by the footsteps of man is in general sufficient to induce lions to avoid a village, there are exceptions; so many came about our half-deserted houses at Chonuane while we were in the act of removing to Kolobeng, that the natives who remained with Mrs. Livingstone were terrified to stir out of doors in the evenings. Bitches, also, have been known to be guilty of the horridly unnatural act of eating their own young, probably from the great desire for animal food, which is experienced by the inhabitants as well.
When a lion is met in the daytime, a circumstance by no means unfrequent to travelers in these parts, if preconceived notions do not lead them to expect something very “noble” or “majestic”, they will see merely an animal somewhat larger than the biggest dog they ever saw, and partaking very strongly of the canine features; the face is not much like the usual drawings of a lion, the nose being prolonged like a dog’s; not exactly such as our painters make it — though they might learn better at the Zoological Gardens — their ideas of majesty being usually shown by making their lions’ faces like old women in nightcaps. When encountered in the daytime, the lion stands a second or two, gazing, then turns slowly round, and walks as slowly away for a dozen paces, looking over his shoulder; then begins to trot, and, when he thinks himself out of sight, bounds off like a greyhound. By day there is not, as a rule, the smallest danger of lions which are not molested attacking man, nor even on a clear moonlight night, except when they possess the breeding storgh17 (natural affection); this makes them brave almost any danger; and if a man happens to cross to the windward of them, both lion and lioness will rush at him, in the manner of a bitch with whelps. This does not often happen, as I only became aware of two or three instances of it. In one case a man, passing where the wind blew from him to the animals, was bitten before he could climb a tree; and occasionally a man on horseback has been caught by the leg under the same circumstances. So general, however, is the sense of security on moonlight nights, that we seldom tied up our oxen, but let them lie loose by the wagons; while on a dark, rainy night, if a lion is in the neighborhood, he is almost sure to venture to kill an ox. His approach is always stealthy, except when wounded; and any appearance of a trap is enough to cause him to refrain from making the last spring. This seems characteristic of the feline species; when a goat is picketed in India for the purpose of enabling the huntsmen to shoot a tiger by night, if on a plain, he would whip off the animal so quickly by a stroke of the paw that no one could take aim; to obviate this, a small pit is dug, and the goat is picketed to a stake in the bottom; a small stone is tied in the ear of the goat, which makes him cry the whole night. When the tiger sees the appearance of a trap, he walks round and round the pit, and allows the hunter, who is lying in wait, to have a fair shot.
17 (Greek) sigma-tau-omicron-rho-gamma-eta.
When a lion is very hungry, and lying in wait, the sight of an animal may make him commence stalking it. In one case a man, while stealthily crawling towards a rhinoceros, happened to glance behind him, and found to his horror a lion STALKING HIM; he only escaped by springing up a tree like a cat. At Lopepe a lioness sprang on the after quarter of Mr. Oswell’s horse, and when we came up to him we found the marks of the claws on the horse, and a scratch on Mr. O.‘s hand. The horse, on feeling the lion on him, sprang away, and the rider, caught by a wait-a-bit thorn, was brought to the ground and rendered insensible. His dogs saved him. Another English gentleman (Captain Codrington) was surprised in the same way, though not hunting the lion at the time, but turning round he shot him dead in the neck. By accident a horse belonging to Codrington ran away, but was stopped by the bridle catching a stump; there he remained a prisoner two days, and when found the whole space around was marked by the footprints of lions. They had evidently been afraid to attack the haltered horse from fear that it was a trap. Two lions came up by night to within three yards of oxen tied to a wagon, and a sheep tied to a tree, and stood roaring, but afraid to make a spring. On another occasion one of our party was lying sound asleep and unconscious of danger between two natives behind a bush at Mashue; the fire was nearly out at their feet in consequence of all being completely tired out by the fatigues of the previous day; a lion came up to within three yards of the fire, and there commenced roaring instead of making a spring: the fact of their riding-ox being tied to the bush was the only reason the lion had for not following his instinct, and making a meal of flesh. He then stood on a knoll three hundred yards distant, and roared all night, and continued his growling as the party moved off by daylight next morning.
Nothing that I ever learned of the lion would lead me to attribute to it either the ferocious or noble character ascribed to it elsewhere. It possesses none of the nobility of the Newfoundland or St. Bernard dogs. With respect to its great strength there can be no doubt. The immense masses of muscle around its jaws, shoulders, and forearms proclaim tremendous force. They would seem, however, to be inferior in power to those of the Indian tiger. Most of those feats of strength that I have seen performed by lions, such as the taking away of an ox, were not carrying, but dragging or trailing the carcass along the ground: they have sprung on some occasions on to the hind-quarters of a horse, but no one has ever seen them on the withers of a giraffe. They do not mount on the hind-quarters of an eland even, but try to tear him down with their claws. Messrs. Oswell and Vardon once saw three lions endeavoring to drag down a buffalo, and they were unable to do so for a time, though he was then mortally wounded by a two-ounce ball.18
18 This singular encounter, in the words of an eye-witness, happened as follows:
“My South African Journal is now before me, and I have got hold of the account of the lion and buffalo affair; here it is: ‘15th September, 1846. Oswell and I were riding this afternoon along the banks of the Limpopo, when a waterbuck started in front of us. I dismounted, and was following it through the jungle, when three buffaloes got up, and, after going a little distance, stood still, and the nearest bull turned round and looked at me. A ball from the two-ouncer crashed into his shoulder, and they all three made off. Oswell and I followed as soon as I had reloaded, and when we were in sight of the buffalo, and gaining on him at every stride, three lions leaped on the unfortunate brute; he bellowed most lustily as he kept up a kind of running fight, but he was, of course, soon overpowered and pulled down. We had a fine view of the struggle, and saw the lions on their hind legs tearing away with teeth and claws in most ferocious style. We crept up within thirty yards, and, kneeling down, blazed away at the lions. My rifle was a single barrel, and I had no spare gun. One lion fell dead almost ON the buffalo; he had merely time to turn toward us, seize a bush with his teeth, and drop dead with the stick in his jaws. The second made off immediately; and the third raised his head, coolly looked round for a moment, then went on tearing and biting at the carcass as hard as ever. We retired a short distance to load, then again advanced and fired. The lion made off, but a ball that he received OUGHT to have stopped him, as it went clean through his shoulder-blade. He was followed up and killed, after having charged several times. Both lions were males. It is not often that one BAGS a brace of lions and a bull buffalo in about ten minutes. It was an exciting adventure, and I shall never forget it.’
“Such, my dear Livingstone, is the plain unvarnished account. The buffalo had, of course, gone close to where the lions were lying down for the day; and they, seeing him lame and bleeding, thought the opportunity too good a one to be lost.
In general the lion seizes the animal he is attacking by the flank near the hind leg, or by the throat below the jaw. It is questionable whether he ever attempts to seize an animal by the withers. The flank is the most common point of attack, and that is the part he begins to feast on first. The natives and lions are very similar in their tastes in the selection of tit-bits: an eland may be seen disemboweled by a lion so completely that he scarcely seems cut up at all. The bowels and fatty parts form a full meal for even the largest lion. The jackal comes sniffing about, and sometimes suffers for his temerity by a stroke from the lion’s paw laying him dead. When gorged, the lion falls fast asleep, and is then easily dispatched. Hunting a lion with dogs involves very little danger as compared with hunting the Indian tiger, because the dogs bring him out of cover and make him stand at bay, giving the hunter plenty of time for a good deliberate shot.
Where game is abundant, there you may expect lions in proportionately large numbers. They are never seen in herds, but six or eight, probably one family, occasionally hunt together. One is in much more danger of being run over when walking in the streets of London, than he is of being devoured by lions in Africa, unless engaged in hunting the animal. Indeed, nothing that I have seen or heard about lions would constitute a barrier in the way of men of ordinary courage and enterprise.
The same feeling which has induced the modern painter to caricature the lion, has led the sentimentalist to consider the lion’s roar the most terrific of all earthly sounds. We hear of the “majestic roar of the king of beasts.” It is, indeed, well calculated to inspire fear if you hear it in combination with the tremendously loud thunder of that country, on a night so pitchy dark that every flash of the intensely vivid lightning leaves you with the impression of stone-blindness, while the rain pours down so fast that your fire goes out, leaving you without the protection of even a tree, or the chance of your gun going off. But when you are in a comfortable house or wagon, the case is very different, and you hear the roar of the lion without any awe or alarm. The silly ostrich makes a noise as loud, yet he never was feared by man. To talk of the majestic roar of the lion is mere majestic twaddle. On my mentioning this fact some years ago, the assertion was doubted, so I have been careful ever since to inquire the opinions of Europeans, who have heard both, if they could detect any difference between the roar of a lion and that of an ostrich; the invariable answer was, that they could not when the animal was at any distance. The natives assert that they can detect a variation between the commencement of the noise of each. There is, it must be admitted, considerable difference between the singing noise of a lion when full, and his deep, gruff growl when hungry. In general the lion’s voice seems to come deeper from the chest than that of the ostrich, but to this day I can distinguish between them with certainty only by knowing that the ostrich roars by day and the lion by night.
The African lion is of a tawny color, like that of some mastiffs. The mane in the male is large, and gives the idea of great power. In some lions the ends of the hair of the mane are black; these go by the name of black-maned lions, though as a whole all look of the yellow tawny color. At the time of the discovery of the lake, Messrs. Oswell and Wilson shot two specimens of another variety. One was an old lion, whose teeth were mere stumps, and his claws worn quite blunt; the other was full grown, in the prime of life, with white, perfect teeth; both were entirely destitute of mane. The lions in the country near the lake give tongue less than those further south. We scarcely ever heard them roar at all.
The lion has other checks on inordinate increase besides man. He seldom attacks full-grown animals; but frequently, when a buffalo calf is caught by him, the cow rushes to the rescue, and a toss from her often kills him. One we found was killed thus; and on the Leeambye another, which died near Sesheke, had all the appearance of having received his death-blow from a buffalo. It is questionable if a single lion ever attacks a full-grown buffalo. The amount of roaring heard at night, on occasions when a buffalo is killed, seems to indicate there are always more than one lion engaged in the onslaught.
On the plain, south of Sebituane’s ford, a herd of buffaloes kept a number of lions from their young by the males turning their heads to the enemy. The young and the cows were in the rear. One toss from a bull would kill the strongest lion that ever breathed. I have been informed that in one part of India even the tame buffaloes feel their superiority to some wild animals, for they have been seen to chase a tiger up the hills, bellowing as if they enjoyed the sport. Lions never go near any elephants except the calves, which, when young, are sometimes torn by them; every living thing retires before the lordly elephant, yet a full-grown one would be an easier prey than the rhinoceros; the lion rushes off at the mere sight of this latter beast.
In the country adjacent to Mashue great numbers of different kinds of mice exist. The ground is often so undermined with their burrows that the foot sinks in at every step. Little haycocks, about two feet high, and rather more than that in breadth, are made by one variety of these little creatures. The same thing is done in regions annually covered with snow for obvious purposes, but it is difficult here to divine the reason of the haymaking in the climate of Africa.19
19 ‘Euryotis unisulcatus’ (F. Cuvier), ‘Mus pumelio’ (Spar.), and ‘Mus lehocla’ (Smith), all possess this habit in a greater or less degree. The first-named may be seen escaping danger with its young hanging to the after-part of its body.
Wherever mice abound, serpents may be expected, for the one preys on the other. A cat in a house is therefore a good preventive against the entrance of these noxious reptiles. Occasionally, however, notwithstanding every precaution, they do find their way in, but even the most venomous sorts bite only when put in bodily fear themselves, or when trodden upon, or when the sexes come together. I once found a coil of serpents’ skins, made by a number of them twisting together in the manner described by the Druids of old. When in the country, one feels nothing of that alarm and loathing which we may experience when sitting in a comfortable English room reading about them; yet they are nasty things, and we seem to have an instinctive feeling against them. In making the door for our Mabotsa house, I happened to leave a small hole at the corner below. Early one morning a man came to call for some article I had promised. I at once went to the door, and, it being dark, trod on a serpent. The moment I felt the cold scaly skin twine round a part of my leg, my latent instinct was roused, and I jumped up higher than I ever did before or hope to do again, shaking the reptile off in the leap. I probably trod on it near the head, and so prevented it biting me, but did not stop to examine.
Some of the serpents are particularly venomous. One was killed at Kolobeng of a dark brown, nearly black color, 8 feet 3 inches long. This species (picakholu) is so copiously supplied with poison that, when a number of dogs attack it, the first bitten dies almost instantaneously, the second in about five minutes, the third in an hour or so, while the fourth may live several hours. In a cattle-pen it produces great mischief in the same way. The one we killed at Kolobeng continued to distill clear poison from the fangs for hours after its head was cut off. This was probably that which passes by the name of the “spitting serpent”, which is believed to be able to eject its poison into the eyes when the wind favors its forcible expiration. They all require water, and come long distances to the Zouga, and other rivers and pools, in search of it. We have another dangerous serpent, the puff adder, and several vipers. One, named by the inhabitants “Noga-put-sane”, or serpent of a kid, utters a cry by night exactly like the bleating of that animal. I heard one at a spot where no kid could possibly have been. It is supposed by the natives to lure travelers to itself by this bleating. Several varieties, when alarmed, emit a peculiar odor, by which the people become aware of their presence in a house. We have also the cobra (‘Naia haje’, Smith) of several colors or varieties. When annoyed, they raise their heads up about a foot from the ground, and flatten the neck in a threatening manner, darting out the tongue and retracting it with great velocity, while their fixed glassy eyes glare as if in anger. There are also various species of the genus ‘Dendrophis’, as the ‘Bucephalus viridis’, or green tree-climber. They climb trees in search of birds and eggs, and are soon discovered by all the birds in the neighborhood collecting and sounding an alarm.20 Their fangs are formed not so much for injecting poison on external objects as for keeping in any animal or bird of which they have got hold. In the case of the ‘Dasypeltis inornatus’ (Smith), the teeth are small, and favorable for the passage of thin-shelled eggs without breaking. The egg is taken in unbroken till it is within the gullet, or about two inches behind the head. The gular teeth placed there break the shell without spilling the contents, as would be the case if the front teeth were large. The shell is then ejected. Others appear to be harmless, and even edible. Of the latter sort is the large python, metse pallah, or tari. The largest specimens of this are about 15 or 20 feet in length. They are perfectly harmless, and live on small animals, chiefly the rodentia; occasionally the steinbuck and pallah fall victims, and are sucked into its comparatively small mouth in boa-constrictor fashion. One we shot was 11 feet 10 inches long, and as thick as a man’s leg. When shot through the spine, it was capable of lifting itself up about five feet high, and opened its mouth in a threatening manner, but the poor thing was more inclined to crawl away. The flesh is much relished by the Bakalahari and Bushmen. They carry away each his portion, like logs of wood, over their shoulders.
20 “As this snake, ‘Bucephalus Capensis’, in our opinion, is not provided with a poisonous fluid to instill into wounds which these fangs may inflict, they must consequently be intended for a purpose different to those which exist in poisonous reptiles. Their use seems to be to offer obstacles to the retrogression of animals, such as birds, etc., while they are only partially within the mouth; and from the circumstance of these fangs being directed backward, and not admitting of being raised so as to form an angle with the edge of the jaw, they are well fitted to act as powerful holders when once they penetrate the skin and soft parts of the prey which their possessors may be in the act of swallowing. Without such fangs escapes would be common; with such they are rare.
“The natives of South Africa regard the ‘Bucephalus Capensis’ as poisonous; but in their opinion we can not concur, as we have not been able to discover the existence of any glands manifestly organized for the secretion of poison. The fangs are inclosed in a soft, pulpy sheath, the inner surface of which is commonly coated with a thin glairy secretion. This secretion possibly may have something acrid and irritating in its qualities, which may, when it enters a wound, cause pain and even swelling, but nothing of greater importance.
“The ‘Bucephalus Capensis’ is generally found on trees, to which it resorts for the purpose of catching birds, upon which it delights to feed. The presence of a specimen in a tree is generally soon discovered by the birds of the neighborhood, who collect around it and fly to and fro, uttering the most piercing cries, until some one, more terror-struck than the rest, actually scans its lips, and, almost without resistance, becomes a meal for its enemy. During such a proceeding the snake is generally observed with its head raised about ten or twelve inches above the branch round which its body and tail are entwined, with its mouth open and its neck inflated, as if anxiously endeavoring to increase the terror which it would almost appear it was aware would sooner or later bring within its grasp some one of the feathered group.
“Whatever may be said in ridicule of fascination, it is nevertheless true that birds, and even quadrupeds, are, under certain circumstances, unable to retire from the presence of certain of their enemies; and, what is even more extraordinary, unable to resist the propensity to advance from a situation of actual safety into one of the most imminent danger. This I have often seen exemplified in the case of birds and snakes; and I have heard of instances equally curious, in which antelopes and other quadrupeds have been so bewildered by the sudden appearance of crocodiles, and by the grimaces and contortions they practiced, as to be unable to fly or even move from the spot toward which they were approaching to seize them.” — Dr. Andrew Smith’s “Reptilia”.
In addition to these interesting statements of the most able naturalist from whom I have taken this note, it may be added that fire exercises a fascinating effect on some kinds of toads. They may be seen rushing into it in the evenings without ever starting back on feeling pain. Contact with the hot embers rather increases the energy with which they strive to gain the hottest parts, and they never cease their struggles for the centre even when their juices are coagulating and their limbs stiffening in the roasting heat. Various insects, also, are thus fascinated; but the scorpions may be seen coming away from the fire in fierce disgust, and they are so irritated as to inflict at that time their most painful stings.
Some of the Bayeiye we met at Sebituane’s Ford pretended to be unaffected by the bite of serpents, and showed the feat of lacerating their arms with the teeth of such as are unfurnished with the poison-fangs. They also swallow the poison, by way of gaining notoriety; but Dr. Andrew Smith put the sincerity of such persons to the test by offering them the fangs of a really poisonous variety, and found they shrank from the experiment.
When we reached the Bamangwato, the chief, Sekomi, was particularly friendly, collected all his people to the religious services we held, and explained his reasons for compelling some Englishmen to pay him a horse. “They would not sell him any powder, though they had plenty; so he compelled them to give it and the horse for nothing. He would not deny the extortion to me; that would be ‘boherehere’ (swindling).” He thus thought extortion better than swindling. I could not detect any difference in the morality of the two transactions, but Sekomi’s ideas of honesty are the lowest I have met with in any Bechuana chief, and this instance is mentioned as the only approach to demanding payment for leave to pass that I have met with in the south. In all other cases the difficulty has been to get a chief to give us men to show the way, and the payment has only been for guides. Englishmen have always very properly avoided giving that idea to the native mind which we shall hereafter find prove troublesome, that payment ought to be made for passage through a country.
All the Bechuana and Caffre tribes south of the Zambesi practice circumcision (‘boguera’), but the rites observed are carefully concealed. The initiated alone can approach, but in this town I was once a spectator of the second part of the ceremony of the circumcision, called “sechu”. Just at the dawn of day, a row of boys of nearly fourteen years of age stood naked in the kotla, each having a pair of sandals as a shield on his hands. Facing them stood the men of the town in a similar state of nudity, all armed with long thin wands, of a tough, strong, supple bush called moretloa (‘Grewia flava’), and engaged in a dance named “koha”, in which questions are put to the boys, as “Will you guard the chief well?” “Will you herd the cattle well?” and, while the latter give an affirmative response, the men rush forward to them, and each aims a full-weight blow at the back of one of the boys. Shielding himself with the sandals above his head, he causes the supple wand to descend and bend into his back, and every stroke inflicted thus makes the blood squirt out of a wound a foot or eighteen inches long. At the end of the dance, the boys’ backs are seamed with wounds and weals, the scars of which remain through life. This is intended to harden the young soldiers, and prepare them for the rank of men. After this ceremony, and after killing a rhinoceros, they may marry a wife.
In the “koha” the same respect is shown to age as in many other of their customs. A younger man, rushing from the ranks to exercise his wand on the backs of the youths, may be himself the object of chastisement by the older, and, on the occasion referred to, Sekomi received a severe cut on the leg from one of his gray-haired people. On my joking with some of the young men on their want of courage, notwithstanding all the beatings of which they bore marks, and hinting that our soldiers were brave without suffering so much, one rose up and said, “Ask him if, when he and I were compelled by a lion to stop and make a fire, I did not lie down and sleep as well as himself.” In other parts a challenge to try a race would have been given, and you may frequently see grown men adopting that means of testing superiority, like so many children.
The sechu is practiced by three tribes only. Boguera is observed by all the Bechuanas and Caffres, but not by the negro tribes beyond 20° south. The “boguera” is a civil rather than a religious rite. All the boys of an age between ten and fourteen or fifteen are selected to be the companions for life of one of the sons of the chief. They are taken out to some retired spot in the forest, and huts are erected for their accommodation; the old men go out and teach them to dance, initiating them, at the same time, into all the mysteries of African politics and government. Each one is expected to compose an oration in praise of himself, called a “leina” or name, and to be able to repeat it with sufficient fluency. A good deal of beating is required to bring them up to the required excellency in different matters, so that, when they return from the close seclusion in which they are kept, they have generally a number of scars to show on their backs. These bands or regiments, named mepato in the plural and mopato in the singular, receive particular appellations; as, the Matsatsi — the suns; the Mabusa — the rulers; equivalent to our Coldstreams or Enniskillens; and, though living in different parts of the town, they turn out at the call, and act under the chief’s son as their commander. They recognize a sort of equality and partial communism ever afterward, and address each other by the title of molekane or comrade. In cases of offence against their rules, as eating alone when any of their comrades are within call, or in cases of cowardice or dereliction of duty, they may strike one another, or any member of a younger mopato, but never any one of an older band; and when three or four companies have been made, the oldest no longer takes the field in time of war, but remains as a guard over the women and children. When a fugitive comes to a tribe, he is directed to the mopato analogous to that to which in his own tribe he belongs, and does duty as a member. No one of the natives knows how old he is. If asked his age, he answers by putting another question, “Does a man remember when he was born?” Age is reckoned by the number of mepato they have seen pass through the formulae of admission. When they see four or five mepato younger than themselves, they are no longer obliged to bear arms. The oldest individual I ever met boasted he had seen eleven sets of boys submit to the boguera. Supposing him to have been fifteen when he saw his own, and fresh bands were added every six or seven years, he must have been about forty when he saw the fifth, and may have attained seventy-five or eighty years, which is no great age; but it seemed so to them, for he had now doubled the age for superannuation among them. It is an ingenious plan for attaching the members of the tribe to the chief’s family, and for imparting a discipline which renders the tribe easy of command. On their return to the town from attendance on the ceremonies of initiation, a prize is given to the lad who can run fastest, the article being placed where all may see the winner run up to snatch it. They are then considered men (banona, viri), and can sit among the elders in the kotla. Formerly they were only boys (basimane, pueri). The first missionaries set their faces against the boguera, on account of its connection with heathenism, and the fact that the youths learned much evil, and became disobedient to their parents. From the general success of these men, it is perhaps better that younger missionaries should tread in their footsteps; for so much evil may result from breaking down the authority on which, to those who can not read, the whole system of our influence appears to rest, that innovators ought to be made to propose their new measures as the Locrians did new laws — with ropes around their necks.
Probably the “boguera” was only a sanitary and political measure; and there being no continuous chain of tribes practicing the rite between the Arabs and the Bechuanas, or Caffres, and as it is not a religious ceremony, it can scarcely be traced, as is often done, to a Mohammedan source.
A somewhat analogous ceremony (boyale) takes place for young women, and the protegees appear abroad drilled under the surveillance of an old lady to the carrying of water. They are clad during the whole time in a dress composed of ropes made of alternate pumpkin-seeds and bits of reed strung together, and wound round the body in a figure-of-eight fashion. They are inured in this way to bear fatigue, and carry large pots of water under the guidance of the stern old hag. They have often scars from bits of burning charcoal having been applied to the forearm, which must have been done to test their power of bearing pain.
The Bamangwato hills are part of the range called Bakaa. The Bakaa tribe, however, removed to Kolobeng, and is now joined to that of Sechele. The range stands about 700 or 800 feet above the plains, and is composed of great masses of black basalt. It is probably part of the latest series of volcanic rocks in South Africa. At the eastern end these hills have curious fungoid or cup-shaped hollows, of a size which suggests the idea of craters. Within these are masses of the rock crystallized in the columnar form of this formation. The tops of the columns are quite distinct, of the hexagonal form, like the bottom of the cells of a honeycomb, but they are not parted from each other as in the Cave of Fingal. In many parts the lava-streams may be recognized, for there the rock is rent and split in every direction, but no soil is yet found in the interstices. When we were sitting in the evening, after a hot day, it was quite common to hear these masses of basalt split and fall among each other with the peculiar ringing sound which makes people believe that this rock contains much iron. Several large masses, in splitting thus by the cold acting suddenly on parts expanded by the heat of the day, have slipped down the sides of the hills, and, impinging against each other, have formed cavities in which the Bakaa took refuge against their enemies. The numerous chinks and crannies left by these huge fragments made it quite impossible for their enemies to smoke them out, as was done by the Boers to the people of Mankopane.
This mass of basalt, about six miles long, has tilted up the rocks on both the east and west; these upheaved rocks are the ancient silurian schists which formed the bottom of the great primaeval valley, and, like all the recent volcanic rocks of this country, have a hot fountain in their vicinity, namely, that of Serinane.
In passing through these hills on our way north we enter a pass named Manakalongwe, or Unicorn’s Pass. The unicorn here is a large edible caterpillar, with an erect, horn-like tail. The pass was also called Porapora (or gurgling of water), from a stream having run through it. The scene must have been very different in former times from what it is now. This is part of the River Mahalapi, which so-called river scarcely merits the name, any more than the meadows of Edinburgh deserve the title of North Loch. These hills are the last we shall see for months. The country beyond consisted of large patches of trap-covered tufa, having little soil or vegetation except tufts of grass and wait-a-bit thorns, in the midst of extensive sandy, grass-covered plains. These yellow-colored, grassy plains, with moretloa and mahatla bushes, form quite a characteristic feature of the country. The yellow or dun-color prevails during a great part of the year. The Bakwain hills are an exception to the usual flat surface, for they are covered with green trees to their tops, and the valleys are often of the most lovely green. The trees are larger too, and even the plains of the Bakwain country contain trees instead of bushes. If you look north from the hills we are now leaving, the country partakes of this latter character. It appears as if it were a flat covered with a forest of ordinary-sized trees from 20 to 30 feet high, but when you travel over it they are not so closely planted but that a wagon with care may be guided among them. The grass grows in tufts of the size of one’s hat, with bare soft sand between. Nowhere here have we an approach to English lawns, or the pleasing appearance of English greensward.
In no part of this country could European grain be cultivated without irrigation. The natives all cultivate the dourrha or holcus sorghum, maize, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, and different kinds of beans; and they are entirely dependent for the growth of these on rains. Their instrument of culture is the hoe, and the chief labor falls on the female portion of the community. In this respect the Bechuanas closely resemble the Caffres. The men engage in hunting, milk the cows, and have the entire control of the cattle; they prepare the skins, make the clothing, and in many respects may be considered a nation of tailors.
When at Sekomi’s we generally have heard his praises sounded by a man who rises at break of day, and utters at the top of his voice the oration which that ruler is said to have composed at his boguera. This repetition of his “leina”, or oration, is so pleasing to a chief, that he generally sends a handsome present to the man who does it.
JANUARY 28TH. Passing on to Letloche, about twenty miles beyond the Bamangwato, we found a fine supply of water. This is a point of so much interest in that country that the first question we ask of passers by is, “Have you had water?” the first inquiry a native puts to a fellow-countryman is, “Where is the rain?” and, though they are by no means an untruthful nation, the answer generally is, “I don’t know — there is none — we are killed with hunger and by the sun.” If news is asked for, they commence with, “There is no news: I heard some lies only,” and then tell all they know.
This spot was Mr. Gordon Cumming’s furthest station north. Our house at Kolobeng having been quite in the hunting-country, rhinoceros and buffaloes several times rushed past, and I was able to shoot the latter twice from our own door. We were favored by visits from this famous hunter during each of the five years of his warfare with wild animals. Many English gentlemen following the same pursuits paid their guides and assistants so punctually that in making arrangements for them we had to be careful that four did not go where two only were wanted: they knew so well that an Englishman would pay that they depended implicitly on his word of honor, and not only would they go and hunt for five or six months in the north, enduring all the hardships of that trying mode of life, with little else but meat of game to subsist on, but they willingly went seven hundred or eight hundred miles to Graham’s Town, receiving for wages only a musket worth fifteen shillings.
No one ever deceived them except one man; and as I believed that he was afflicted with a slight degree of the insanity of greediness, I upheld the honor of the English name by paying his debts. As the guides of Mr. Cumming were furnished through my influence, and usually got some strict charges as to their behavior before parting, looking upon me in the light of a father, they always came to give me an account of their service, and told most of those hunting adventures which have since been given to the world, before we had the pleasure of hearing our friend relate them himself by our own fireside. I had thus a tolerably good opportunity of testing their accuracy, and I have no hesitation in saying that for those who love that sort of thing Mr. Cumming’s book conveys a truthful idea of South African hunting. Some things in it require explanation, but the numbers of animals said to have been met with and killed are by no means improbable, considering the amount of large game then in the country. Two other gentlemen hunting in the same region destroyed in one season no fewer than seventy-eight rhinoceroses alone. Sportsmen, however, would not now find an equal number, for as guns are introduced among the tribes all these fine animals melt away like snow in spring. In the more remote districts, where fire-arms have not yet been introduced, with the single exception of the rhinoceros, the game is to be found in numbers much greater than Mr. Cumming ever saw. The tsetse is, however, an insuperable barrier to hunting with horses there, and Europeans can do nothing on foot. The step of the elephant when charging the hunter, though apparently not quick, is so long that the pace equals the speed of a good horse at a canter. A young sportsman, no matter how great among pheasants, foxes, and hounds, would do well to pause before resolving to brave fever for the excitement of risking such a terrific charge; the scream or trumpeting of this enormous brute when infuriated is more like what the shriek of a French steam-whistle would be to a man standing on the dangerous part of a rail-road than any other earthly sound: a horse unused to it will sometimes stand shivering instead of taking his rider out of danger. It has happened often that the poor animal’s legs do their duty so badly that he falls and causes his rider to be trodden into a mummy; or, losing his presence of mind, the rider may allow the horse to dash under a tree and crack his cranium against a branch. As one charge from an elephant has made embryo Nimrods bid a final adieu to the chase, incipient Gordon Cummings might try their nerves by standing on railways till the engines were within a few yards of them. Hunting elephants on foot would be not less dangerous,21 unless the Ceylon mode of killing them by one shot could be followed: it has never been tried in Africa.
21 Since writing the above statement, it has received confirmation in the reported death of Mr. Wahlberg while hunting elephants on foot at Lake Ngami.
Advancing to some wells beyond Letloche, at a spot named Kanne, we found them carefully hedged round by the people of a Bakalahari village situated near the spot. We had then sixty miles of country in front without water, and very distressing for the oxen, as it is generally deep soft sand. There is one sucking-place, around which were congregated great numbers of Bushwomen with their egg-shells and reeds. Mathuluane now contained no water, and Motlatsa only a small supply, so we sent the oxen across the country to the deep well Nkauane, and half were lost on the way. When found at last they had been five whole days without water. Very large numbers of elands were met with as usual, though they seldom can get a sip of drink. Many of the plains here have large expanses of grass without trees, but you seldom see a treeless horizon. The ostrich is generally seen quietly feeding on some spot where no one can approach him without being detected by his wary eye. As the wagon moves along far to the windward he thinks it is intending to circumvent him, so he rushes up a mile or so from the leeward, and so near to the front oxen that one sometimes gets a shot at the silly bird. When he begins to run all the game in sight follow his example. I have seen this folly taken advantage of when he was feeding quietly in a valley open at both ends. A number of men would commence running, as if to cut off his retreat from the end through which the wind came; and although he had the whole country hundreds of miles before him by going to the other end, on he madly rushed to get past the men, and so was speared. He never swerves from the course he once adopts, but only increases his speed.
When the ostrich is feeding his pace is from twenty to twenty-two inches; when walking, but not feeding, it is twenty-six inches; and when terrified, as in the case noticed, it is from eleven and a half to thirteen and even fourteen feet in length. Only in one case was I at all satisfied of being able to count the rate of speed by a stop-watch, and, if I am not mistaken, there were thirty in ten seconds; generally one’s eye can no more follow the legs than it can the spokes of a carriage-wheel in rapid motion. If we take the above number, and twelve feet stride as the average pace, we have a speed of twenty-six miles an hour. It can not be very much above that, and is therefore slower than a railway locomotive. They are sometimes shot by the horseman making a cross cut to their undeviating course, but few Englishmen ever succeed in killing them.
The ostrich begins to lay her eggs before she has fixed on a spot for a nest, which is only a hollow a few inches deep in the sand, and about a yard in diameter. Solitary eggs, named by the Bechuanas “lesetla”, are thus found lying forsaken all over the country, and become a prey to the jackal. She seems averse to risking a spot for a nest, and often lays her eggs in that of another ostrich, so that as many as forty-five have been found in one nest. Some eggs contain small concretions of the matter which forms the shell, as occurs also in the egg of the common fowl: this has given rise to the idea of stones in the eggs. Both male and female assist in the incubations; but the numbers of females being always greatest, it is probable that cases occur in which the females have the entire charge. Several eggs lie out of the nest, and are thought to be intended as food for the first of the newly-hatched brood till the rest come out and enable the whole to start in quest of food. I have several times seen newly-hatched young in charge of the cock, who made a very good attempt at appearing lame in the plover fashion, in order to draw off the attention of pursuers. The young squat down and remain immovable when too small to run far, but attain a wonderful degree of speed when about the size of common fowls. It can not be asserted that ostriches are polygamous, though they often appear to be so. When caught they are easily tamed, but are of no use in their domesticated state.
The egg is possessed of very great vital power. One kept in a room during more than three months, in a temperature about 60°, when broken was found to have a partially-developed live chick in it. The Bushmen carefully avoid touching the eggs, or leaving marks of human feet near them, when they find a nest. They go up the wind to the spot, and with a long stick remove some of them occasionally, and, by preventing any suspicion, keep the hen laying on for months, as we do with fowls. The eggs have a strong, disagreeable flavor, which only the keen appetite of the Desert can reconcile one to. The Hottentots use their trowsers to carry home the twenty or twenty-five eggs usually found in a nest; and it has happened that an Englishman, intending to imitate this knowing dodge, comes to the wagons with blistered legs, and, after great toil, finds all the eggs uneatable, from having been some time sat upon. Our countrymen invariably do best when they continue to think, speak, and act in their own proper character.
The food of the ostrich consists of pods and seeds of different kinds of leguminous plants, with leaves of various plants; and, as these are often hard and dry, he picks up a great quantity of pebbles, many of which are as large as marbles. He picks up also some small bulbs, and occasionally a wild melon to afford moisture, for one was found with a melon which had choked him by sticking in his throat. It requires the utmost address of the Bushmen, crawling for miles on their stomachs, to stalk them successfully; yet the quantity of feathers collected annually shows that the numbers slain must be considerable, as each bird has only a few in the wings and tail. The male bird is of a jet black glossy color, with the single exception of the white feathers, which are objects of trade. Nothing can be finer than the adaptation of those flossy feathers for the climate of the Kalahari, where these birds abound; for they afford a perfect shade to the body, with free ventilation beneath them. The hen ostrich is of a dark brownish-gray color, and so are the half-grown cocks.
The organs of vision in this bird are placed so high that he can detect an enemy at a great distance, but the lion sometimes kills him. The flesh is white and coarse, though, when in good condition, it resembles in some degree that of a tough turkey. It seeks safety in flight; but when pursued by dogs it may be seen to turn upon them and inflict a kick, which is vigorously applied, and sometimes breaks the dog’s back.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57