Ethnography and Condition of South Africa before A.D. 1505

Ethnography and Condition of South Africa before A.D. 1505 (1919)
by George McCall Theal
2427989Ethnography and Condition of South Africa before A.D. 15051919George McCall Theal

Portrait of a bushman playing on the gorah.
(From a Portrait by William J. Burchell, Esqre.)

Ethnography and Condition of South Africa

before A.D. 1505

Being a description of the inhabitants of the country south of the Zambesi and Kunene rivers in A.D. 1505

together with all that can be learned from ancient books and modern research of the condition of South Africa from the earliest time until its discovery by Europeans


George McCall Theal, Litt.D., LL.D.

Second edition in the present form (illustrated), enlarged and improved


George Allen and Unwin, Ltd.

Ruskin House, 40, Museum Street, W.C.


Printed by

William Clowes and Sons, Limited,

London and Beccles.


This volume is a necessary preliminary to my detailed History of South Africa from 1505 to 1884, and indeed may be regarded as the nearest approach that is possible to a history of the country before 1505. Discoveries may yet be made which will throw a stronger light upon the distant past, but at present nothing more can be ascertained than is here placed on record. The book is the result of many years' close application to the study of the subject it deals with.

Geo. M. Theal.

Wynberg, South Africa,

October, 1918.


The Bushmen or Aborigines of South Africa.

Recent discoveries concerning man in early times.—Antiquity of man in South Africa.—Great shell mound at East London.—The Ancient Shellmound Men.—Positions in which ancient stone implements are found.—Slow progress in knowledge of man in a savage state.—Physical features of South Africa.—Civilising effects of hunger, disease, and war.—Conjectures as to the primeval home of the Bushmen.—Similarity of the Bushmen to the palæolithic pigmies of ancient Europe.—Evidence of their wall paintings.—Points of resemblance between the Bushmen and the Semang.—Probable cause of their difference in colour.—Occupation of the African continent by the Bushmen.—Use made of a Bushman by an ancient Egyptian king.—Mention of the Bushmen by the Greek historian Herodotus.—Discovery of engravings on rock in Northern Africa by Dr. Barth and others.—Migration of various races into Africa.—Extermination of the Bushmen in the greater part of the continent.—Doubtful existence of other people in Africa before the Bushmen.—Notes on treatises on stone implements.—Note upon the glacial period in Europe.

The Bushmen (continued).

Condition of primitive man.—Neglect of the study of the Bushmen by the first European colonists.—Information concerning the Bushmen given in official records and by various individuals.—Language of the Bushmen.—Researches by Drs. W. H. I. Bleek and L. C. Lloyd.—Cause of the loss of their language by the surviving Bushmen.—Territory occupied by the Bushmen before the invasion of the Hottentots and the Bantu.—Skull measurements of these people.—Territory occupied by the Bushmen after the invasion.—Constant war between the different peoples.—Adoption of Bushman girls by the invaders.

The Bushmen (continued).

Habitations of the Bushmen.—Food.—Weapons.—Use of poison.—Stone implements.—Clothing.—Modes of attacking enemies.—Cause of their being feared by the Bantu.—Ornaments used by the Bushmen.—Method of procuring fire.—Formation of little independent communities.—Prolific nature of the Bushmen.—Character of individuals.—Physical characteristics.—Want of government.—Domestic life.—Musical instruments.—Fondness for dancing.—Games.—Ordinary life.—Manufactures.—Superstitions.—Intense credulity.—Mythological ideas.—Mode of interment of the dead.—Power of mimicry.—Personal conceit.—Artistic powers.—Engravings on rock.—Sense of locality.—Animal happiness.—Specimens of traditional stories.—Incapacity of adopting European civilisation.—Failure of efforts made to improve the Bushmen.—Almost utter extinction of the race.—Description of the Katia.—Degradation of these people.

The Hottentots or Khoikhoi, termed by the Bantu of the eastern coast Amalawu, and by the Bantu of the south-western coast Ovaserandu.

Arrival of Hottentot immigrants in South Africa.—Researches of Dr. Bleek and of the reverend Mr. Adamson in the Hottentot language.—Discoveries by Mr. G. W. Stow.—Probable early home of the Hottentots.—Line of migration followed by them.—Conflicts with Bushmen on the way.—Incorporation of Bushman girls by the Hottentot horde.—Formation of Hottentot tribes independent of each other.—Extermination of the Bushmen who lived on the proceeds of the sea.—Migration along the southern coast.—Mode of settlement of the Hottentots.— Constant war with the Bushmen.—Differences in appearance between Hottentots and Bushmen.—Language of the Hottentots.—Its gradual extinction.—Mode of formation of the titles of different tribes.—War between the tribes.—Form of government of the tribes.—Domestic cattle of the Hottentots.—Food of the Hottentots.—Clothing.—Personal ornaments.—Habitations.—Weapons of war and the chase.—Earthenware utensils.

The Hottentots or Khoikhoi (continued).

Impoverished Hottentots living on the coast as beachrangers.—Their methods of catching fish.—Contents of the modern shell mounds.—Particulars concerning the people so living.—Modern shell heaps made by Bushmen.—Mixture of Bushman blood in the poorest Hottentots.—Superstitions of the Hottentots.—Their dread of ghosts.—Their religion.—Tales of Heitsi-eibib.—The graves of Heitsi-eibib.—Disposition of the Hottentots.—Their fondness for dancing by moonlight.—Musical instruments.—Division of labour between men and women.—Filthiness of the Hottentots.—Their good qualities.—Apparent cruelty to helpless persons.—Domestic life.—Marriage customs.—Information obtained by Captain Alexander.—Credulity of the Hottentots.—Position of their women.—Evidence of Dr. Theophilus Hahn.—Strange custom of some clans of initiating boys into manhood.—Power of imagination of the Hottentots.—Their evening amusements.—Favourite game.—Comparative happiness.—Capability of adopting European civilisation.—Fondness for intoxicating drink.—Mixture of blood with other peoples.

Speciments of Hottentot Folklore.

The Animals and the Dam of Water.—The Lion that took a Woman's shape.—Story of the Hare.—The Lion and the Jackal.—The Ram, the Tiger, and the Jackal.—The Lion's Defeat.—The Dove and the Heron.—The Elephant and the Tortoise.—The Flying Lion.


The Dark-Skinned People termed by Europeans the Bantu.

Reason of the importance of a study of the Bantu.—Origin of the people so called.—Cause of the great variation between different tribes.—Principal line of advance of the Bantu.—Commerce on the Indian ocean in early times.—Articles of value to be obtained in Eastern Africa in olden times.—Traffic of the Israelites and the Phoenicians on the Indian ocean.—Lack of information from Phoenician sources.—Destruction of Tyre and rise of Alexandria.—Knowledge of black people possessed by the Greeks in the Homeric age.—References by Homer to the pygmies.—Reverence of the Greeks for the Homeric poems.—Knowledge of black people possessed by Herodotus.—Improbability of the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians.—Exploration of the western coast a long way down by a Carthaginian fleet under Hanno.—Knowledge of Africa possessed by Aristotle.—Commerce on the Indian ocean in the time of Alexander the Great.—Exploration in the tune of Ptolemy Philadelphus.—Information supplied by Strabo.—Extension of commerce on the Indian ocean by Europeans.—Knowledge of the monsoons acquired by Hippalus.

The Bantu (continued).

Information given in the Periplus of the Erythrian sea.—Knowledge of Africa possessed by Pliny the elder.—Information given by the astronomer and geographer Ptolemy.—Arab and Persian settlements along the eastern coast of Africa.—The work of Abou Zeyd Hassan.—The great work of Abou'l Haçan Ali el Masoudi.—Origin of the name Delagoa Bay.—Articles of barter obtained from the Bantu.—Extension of the Bantu as far south as Sofala.—Cause of the migration.—Occupation of the country south and west by Bushmen only.—The work of Abi l'Cassem Abdallah Ebn Haukal.—The great work of Abou Abdallah Mohamed el Edrisi.—Exportation of iron and gold from Sofala.—The work of Aboulfeda.—The work of Abou Abdallah Mohamed, commonly known as Ibn Batuta.—Descrip-tion of Kilwa and its ruler.


Settlement of Bantu Tribes south of the Zambesi and Kunene rivers.

Extent of the territory of Sofala.—Arrival of the ancestors of the Bakalahari and the Balala of our day.—Mode of settlement of these people.—Origin of the Masarwa.—Arrival of the Leghoyas.—Conduct of the Leghoyas towards the earlier immigrants.—Arrival of the Batlapin and Barolong.—Relentless warfare with the Bushmen.—Changes in the climate.—Arrival of the Bakwena.—Wars between the different tribes.—Arrival of the Bavenda.—Subsequent career of the Bavenda.—Arrival of the Bakwebo.—Migration of the Bataung to the Vet river.—Settlement of many Bakwena clans along the upper Caledon.—Breaking up of the Karanga tribe.—Arrival of the Barotsi.—Arrival of the Batonga.—Arrival of the ancestors of the coast tribes below Natal.—Arrival of the Amazimba and Abambo hordes.—Settlement of the Abambo in Natal.—Particulars concerning the Amazizi.—Breaking up of the Abambo horde into numerous tribes.—Information obtained from the Poriniguese.—Account of the Umtetwa.—Destruction of the farthest advanced Hottentot tribes by the Bantu.—Extermination of the Bushmen in the territory occupied by the Bantu.—Account of the Berg Damaras.—Arrival of the Ovaherero in Damaraland.—Conflict between the Ovaherero and the Hottentots.—Subdivisions of the Ovaherero.—Account of the Avare or Ovambo group.—Treatment of the Bushmen by these people.—Origin of the title Bantu.—Effect of the hlonipa custom.—Differences between the tribes.—Their classification in three groups.—Note on Sir Harry Johnston's account of the devastations in the sixteenth century.

General Description, Form of Government, and Religion of the Bantu.

Information obtained from the Portuguese.—Cause of the differences between the tribes.—Effect of atavism.—Characteristics of the Bantu in general.—Personal appearance.—Disposition of the men.—Robust constitution of the people.—Prolific nature of the people.—Rates of increase according to census returns.— Form of government of the tribes.—Military despotism.—Patriarchal rule.—Position of the members of ruling families.—Position of the common people.—Checks upon arbitrary rule.—Law of succession to the chieftainship.—Manner of formation of new tribes.—Position of the chief in the life of the people.—Standard of virtue of the Bantu.—Form of oath.—Revenue of the chiefs.—-Charges upon the government.—Ancestral spirit worship.—Sacrifices to the spirits of the dead.—Vague nature of this belief.—Ideas concerning death.—Form of burial of chiefs—Funeral customs of the Ovaherero.—Slaughter of attendants on the death of a great military ruler.—Xosa belief in Qamata.—Reason for certain animals being regarded as sacred.—Meaning of the word siboko.—Cause of some tribes having more than one siboko.—Mode of formation of many tribal titles.—Belief in hobgoblins and water spirits.—Belief in wise people living under the water.—Regard paid by some of the tribes to fire.—Views regarding the origin of life and death.—Unlucky days.—Rejoicing over the appearance of a new moon.—Ceremony after the gathering of crops.—Duties of the tribal priests.—Influence of religion on the government.—Belief in witchcraft.—Demented seers.—Phallic charms.—Note on brother-sister marriage.

Superstitions and Customs of the Bantu.

Profession of Rainmakers.—Herbalists.—Method of drawing blood.—Surgical operations.—Use of charms.—Divination attended by revolting cruelty.—Superstitious customs of the interior tribes.—Superstitious use of a skull.—Hereditary belief in witchcraft.—System of common law and tribunals of justice.—Communal responsibility.—Form of lawsuits.—Modes of punishment.—Trials for dealing in witchcraft.—Trials by ordeal.—Mode of reckoning time.—Preservation of traditions.—Official praisers.—Dynastic titles.—Mode of naming individuals.—Circumcision of lads.—Corresponding rite for girls.—Form of marriage.—Position of women.—Marriage festivities.—Preliminary arrangements for a marriage.—Restrictions as to the females a man of the coast tribes might marry.—Greater liberty of men of the interior tribes.—Marriages of the Ovaherero.—Revolting custom of the Makaranga.—Custom of a childless woman.—Custom regarding divorces.—Cause of numerous lawsuits.—Authority of the oldest maternal uncle over children.—Lack of chastity among the Bantu.—Advice given by Motlomi to Moshesh.

Description of the Bantu (continued).

Productions of Bantu gardens.—Manufacture of millet and honey beer.—Use of dacha.—Rapid spread of tobacco.—Modes of preserving millet.—Lack of frugality among the Bantu.—Extensive use of wild plants.—Use of flesh and fermented milk.—Limited use of fish.—Method of hunting.—Use of locusts as food.—Practice of cannibalism.—System of land tenure.—Law of trespass.—Destruction of trees.—Position of kraals.—Style of habitations.—Training of oxen.—Law of inheritance.—Advantages of polygamy to a people like the Bantu.—-Weapons of war.—Military organisation.—Clothing of the people.—Ornaments of the person.—Attention paid to the hair.—Manufactures of wood, iron, and copper.—Doubtful knowledge of bronze.—Other industries.—Preparation of skins for clothing.—Manufacture of earthenware, baskets, mats, and grass bags.—Use of stone.—Habits of the men.—Persistency in begging.—Comparison of the interior tribes with those on the coast.—Lack of veracity.—Power of deception.—Institution of slavery.—Cheerfulness of the women.—Ordinary life of the women.—Evening amusements.—Games of children.—Toys of children.—Forms of greeting.

Description of the Bantu (continued).

Language of the Bantu.—Specimens of Xosa proverbs.—Mention of poetry and musical instruments.—Mental capacity of the Bantu.—Evidence of numerous qualified individuals on this subject.

Specimens of Bantu Folklore.

Actors in Bantu stories.—Nature of the stories.—Great age of some of the stories.—Story of Long Snake.—Story of Little Red Stomach.—Story of Five Heads.—A more complete story of Five Heads.—Story of the Bird that made milk.—Serolong version of this story.—Story of the girl that disregarded the custom of ntonjane.—Story of Simbukumbukwana.—Story of Sikulume.—Story of the Cannibal's wonderful bird.—Story of the cannibal mother and her children.—Story of Mbulukazi

Specimens of Bantu Folklore (continued).

Story of Hlakanyana.—Story of Ironside and his Sister.—Story of the Glutton.—Story of Tangalimlibo.—Story of the Runaway Children or the Wonderful Feather.—Story of Kenkebe.—Another story of Kenkebe.—Story of the Great Chief of the Animals.—Story of Demane and Demazana.—Story of the Girl and the Mbulu.—Cause of a change of phraseology in folklore tales.—Story of the unreasonable Child to whom the Dog gave its Desert; a Herere tale corresponding to an incident in the Story of Hlakanyana.—Probable origin of these tales.

Rapid Increase of the Bantu in number.

Condition of the Bantu tribes when first met by Europeans.—Remarks upon slavery.—Prolific nature of the slaves in America.—Increase of the Balala in Betshuanaland.—Condition of the slaves exported from the West African coast.—Sir H. Johnston's theory as to the time of the extension of the Bantu.—Dr. Bleek's researches.—Mr. J. F. van Oordt's work.—Evidence of the Bantu religion.—Disappearance in other countries of the uncivilised inhabitants in presence of European colonists.—Effects of the introduction of small-pox and consumption.—Cause of the enjoyment of good health by the Bantu.—Removal of all the checks upon rapid increase in number.—Amazing rate of increase of the Bantu.—Comparisons with the people of other countries.—Replies to questions put to officials and others in the territories occupied by the Bantu.—Spread of disease in recent years.—Greater intensity in the struggle for existence at the present time.—Loss by the Bantu of nearly all their cattle from rinderpest and other diseases.—Necessary substitution of new kinds of food.—Effect upon the people.—Diminution in the rate of increase.


Other Inhabitants of South-Eastern Africa than Bushmen, Hottentots, and Bantu before 1505.

Temporary occupation in remote times of part of South Africa by people well advanced in civilisation.—Extensive gold-mining operations carried on by them.—Relics of their skill.—Construction of enormous stone buildings by them.—Description of Great Zimbabwe.—Entire disappearance of the miners and builders.—Reoccupation of the same territory after a long interval by other partly civilised people.—Great difference between their culture and that of the earlier occupants.—Their industry along the Inyanga range.—Investigations of ruins by archaeologists.—Mysterious disappearance of the strange people.—Total absence of any influence exerted by these people upon the Bushmen or the Hottentots.—-Possible effect of their work upon some of the interior Bantu.—Extent in 1505 of the Bantu occupation.—Mohamedans in South Africa.—Condition of these people.—Particulars concerning them.—Classes of inhabitants south of the Zambesi in 1505.

Index. 427

List of Illustrations.

Bushmen playing on the Gorah Frontispiece

From a Portrait by William J. Burchell, Esqre.

Bushman Digging Stick Page 24
Engravings by Bushmen on Boulders near Lydenburg 〃 25

From Photographs kindly sent to me by Dr. Pyper, of Lydenburg.

Picture of an Eland 〃 25

One of the best Bushman pictures. From a cavern in the Kathlamba mountains.

Photograph of a Bushman Girl 〃 43
Engraving of a Zebra on a Rock in the District of Vryburg 〃 66

From a Photograph of a cast in the South African Museum in Capetown. The original is thirteen inches in length.

Portrait of a Male Adult of the Katia 〃 78

Taken by Miss D. Bleek in the Kalahari, and very kindly supplied to me by her for publication in this volume.

Portrait of a Hottentot 〃 81

Copy of Le Vaillant's Portrait of his faithful Klaas.
The headdress and the strings of beads are European additions to the costume, otherwise the portrait is an excellent one.

A Hottentot Hut 〃 101

From a Drawing by William J Burchell, Esqre.

Hottentot Weapons of War and the Chase 〃 108

From a Drawing by William J Burchell, Esqre.

Portrait of the famous Hottentot chief Jan Jonker Afrikaner, in European Dress 〃 119

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.

Portrait of a Hottentot Woman, the wife of Jan Jonker Afrikaner, showing strong traces of Bushman Blood, in European Dress 〃 135

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.

Group of Xosa Children Page 182
Portrait of a Berg Damara 〃 199

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.

Portrait of Moshesh, the Founder of the present Basuto Tribe, in European Dress 〃 203

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.
Moshesh was the most intelligent Bantu chief ever known in South Africa.

Bantu Girl of High Rank 〃 208
Tembu Woman and Girl 〃 238
Abakweta or Boys recently Circumcised 〃 251
Xosa Girl in Dancing Costume 〃 255

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.

Bamangwato Battle Axes 〃 266
Hut of the Bantu of the Interior 〃 275

From a Drawing by William J. Burchell, Esqre.

Herero Women in Full Dress 〃 281

From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.

Jar manufactured by a Bapedi Woman 〃 290
Woman of the Basuto Tribe 〃 299
Part of the outer Wall of Great Zimbabwe 〃 415
The Cone in Great Zimbabwe 〃 421

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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