Ethnography and Condition of South Africa before A.D. 1505/Chapter 2

Chapter II.

The Bushmen (continued).

If one of the ancient palaeolithic cave dwellers of Europe could make his appearance there again in flesh and blood, what an interest would be taken in him! He would be regarded as being able to throw a flood of light upon the early existence of man on the earth, and from all sides students and members of scientific societies would gather round him to learn all that he could teach. In point of fact he could tell them nothing, even if they could understand his speech. He could not explain the dim religious thoughts, or rather apprehensions of fear from something vague outside himself, that passed through his brain, nor give reliable information of any kind upon the past of his race, where they came from or when or how they had their origin. Of such subjects he knew nothing, and accepted the fact of his own existence and that of his associates without bothering himself about any inquiry into the matter. His conversation would be limited to narratives of the game he had killed, or the girl he had won by sending an arrow through a rival's heart as he lay sleeping, or how his brother had been bewitched by an enemy and had died, or how somebody had been turned into a wild animal and was still spell-bound and only to be seen in his proper form by those whose eyes had been cleansed by charms.

Only in the evening when he was surfeited with the flesh of some animal he had slain, and when weary of the dance he reclined by the fire and admired the patterns made with ochre and soot and grease on his otherwise naked body, he would tell some story of insects or birds or beasts that he had heard from his mother when he was a child, and though he did not know this, had really been as it were stereotyped long centuries before, and was even in those ancient days told in almost identically the same words by people living far away towards the morning dawn and others as far away towards the setting sun. The students and savants would listen, and wonder how a full-grown man, though a pygmy, with a fairly well shaped head but for the great prognathism of the jaws, could delight in such absurd stories and really believe in the truth of many of them. They would soon realise that he could tell them nothing of what they wanted to know, that though he was not an idiot, his reasoning power and his credulity were those of a little child. They would observe that his passions were those of an adult, that his physical strength was great, that he could distinguish objects clearly at a distance that they could only see with a good field-glass, that he could outrun with ease the fleetest of their athletes, and yet that his thoughts were no more lofty than those of the dullest peasant's infant boy.

But the palaeolithic savage restored to life, though he could tell nothing of importance concerning the history or origin or religion of his race, would still be an object of exceeding interest. He could be studied as a workman engaged in the manufacture of timepieces studies the mechanism of a clock, and a very great deal relating to the history of man could be learned in this manner from him. He could not explain the structure of his language, but his words, or the uncouth sounds that issued from his throat and teeth and lips which correspond to words among civilised men, could be taken down and analysed, their meaning could be gradually gathered, the grammatical form in which they were put together to represent ideas could be solved, and a link in the chain of language from its origin to that of the most cultured individual of the present day would be obtained. For this painted savage, disgusting in his habits, almost hideous in his appearance, represented a stage of human existence through which our own ancestors must at one time have passed. That time may have been exceedingly remote, but we cannot get rid of the fact that this repulsive being, who ate and enjoyed the taste of carrion, and never cleansed even the intestine of an animal before devouring it, was a blood relative of our own, and that we ought to take more interest in him than in any of the brute creation.

The Europeans who settled in South Africa after the middle of the seventeenth century had the palæolithic man, just as he roamed over Europe in times long preceding the dawn of history, living in flesh and blood before their eyes. They were indeed far more familiar with his presence than they desired to be, for he was not at all a respectable neighbour. He belonged to an unimprovable race, incapable of adopting the habits of other people much higher in culture than itself, though, as now known, it could amalgamate with those only slightly in advance. Before the arrival of the Hottentots and Bantu in parts of South Africa, it was not in contact with any other branches of the human species, and hence it remained at its own low level, the level of palæolithic man in Europe, without making much advance of any kind during the long long time it occupied the secluded extremity of the continent. When the Europeans arrived therefore, an opportunity was afforded of becoming intimately acquainted with the condition and language of one of the lowest, if not the very lowest, of all the races on the face of the earth, and of making the information gained known to the civilised part of mankind.

That opportunity was not taken advantage of. The white settlers were entirely occupied with making a living, and regarded the Bushmen simply as robbers, just as the Hottentots and Bantu did. Then down to our own times the savage wanderers were generally considered to be outcast Hottentots, even Dr. Bleek himself when he began his researches believing that they had separated from a common ancestral stock only a few centuries back. There were exceptions to this statement, notably Dr. Henry Lichtenstein,[1] but they were few in number. Further, there were no men of sufficient education and inclination wealthy enough to afford the time requisite to conduct the necessary researches. When at length, under the auspices of the late Sir Bartle Frere, a philosophical association came into existence, its pecuniary resources were too limited to render any aid, and it was obliged to confine its attention to other subjects. These are the reasons why long and close research regarding the inner life of the Bushmen was not commenced until the nineteenth century was far advanced.

Scattered about in the early records of the Cape Colony there are many references to the Bushmen besides those relating to war with them, and though these are of considerable value, none of them give all the particulars that a student would like to know. Thus in the journal of Commander Simon van der Stel's expedition to Namaqualand in 1685 it is related that on a certain occasion five Bushmen were met, to whom a sheep was presented, which they killed and ate, rejecting nothing but the gall and four little pieces from the thighs. Beyond stating that they gave as a reason for not eating these little pieces that it was their custom to reject them, no information is given, or probably was obtained, concerning the matter. Recent research by Dr. Bleek and Miss Lloyd fills in this gap, however. The wild people believed that animals and men could change their forms, and that these particular pieces remained part of the human body.

Many travellers and missionaries have also given accounts of the habits and mode of life of the Bushmen, but none of them remained in contact with the savages long enough to learn their language or penetrate into their innermost minds.

The reverend J. J. Kicherer, a missionary of the London Society, was the first to attempt to establish a station purely for the benefit of Bushmen. With a party of assistants, including a half-breed Hottentot and his wife, who were born in the territory near the southern bank of the Orange river, and who spoke both the Dutch and the Bushman languages, so that they were useful as interpreters, on the 6th of July 1799 he took up his residence at a place which he named Blijde Vooruitzigt, or Joyful Prospect, on the bank of the Zak river. Being provided with a good stock of tobacco and a considerable number of oxen and sheep, presented to the mission by religious farmers, he was able to induce a large party of the wild people to listen to his teaching, and they remained with him as long as his stores lasted. In 1800, after he had been with them several months, he wrote of them as follows:[2]

“Although they are not idolaters, the doctrine of a Supreme Being was to them entirely unknown. … Their manner of living is very horrible. Their dwelling and resting place is between the rocks, where they dig a round den of about three feet deep, in which they lie, with their whole family. This den is sometimes covered with a few reeds, to shelter them from the wind and rain, which, however, seldom answers the design, as they are generally soaked through by the first shower. They mostly lie down and sleep, except when hunger greatly torments them; then they go a-hunting; but they live many days without any food. When they find no wild beast, then they make shift with a sort of small wild onions and wild potatoes, which the women seek, but never the men. They are content to eat snakes and mice.

“Their language is so very difficult to learn that no one can spell or write the same. It consists mostly of a clicking with the tongue.

“They are total strangers to domestic happiness. The men have several wives, but conjugal affection is little known. They take no great care of their children, and never correct them except in a fit of rage, when they almost kill them by severe usage. In a quarrel between father and mother, or the several wives of a husband, the defeated party wreaks his or her revenge on the child of the conqueror, which in general loses its life. Tame Hottentots seldom destroy their offspring, except in a fit of passion; but the Bushmen will kill their children without remorse on various occasions, as when they are ill-shaped, when they are in want of food, when the father of a child has forsaken its mother, or when obliged to flee from the farmers or others; in which case they will strangle them, smother them, cast them away in the desert, or bury them alive.

“The Bushmen frequently forsake their aged relations when removing from place to place for the sake of hunting. In this case they leave the old person with a piece of meat, and an ostrich egg-shell full of water: as soon as this little stock is exhausted, the poor deserted creature must perish by hunger, or become the prey of wild beasts. Many of these wild Hottentots live by plunder and murder, and are guilty of the most horrid and atrocious actions.”

Dr. Henry Lichtenstein was the first to attempt to gather a number of words used by them and to place them against words with the same meanings used by Korana Hottentots, thus showing the great difference between the two languages. His information was obtained in 1804 and 1805 from Bushmen living on the great plain south of the Orange river, and he had a competent interpreter and was himself well qualified for the work. But he used no symbols except figures to denote the clicks, and did not distinguish the differences between several of these sounds. No attempt was made by him to ascertain the mode of structure of the sentences, and therefore his list of words is of little or no use to a philologist compared with what the addition of a few phrases would have made it. His general remarks upon the language are:

“Among all the Hottentot dialects, none is so rough and wild, and differs so much from the rest, as that of the Bosjesmans, so that it is scarcely understood by any of the other tribes. It is, in the first place, much poorer in sounds: many sounds, which may be expressed by our letters, in the Gonaqua, the Coran (i.e. the Korana), and the Namaqua languages, are either totally wanting among them, or very rarely occur. Pure vowels are seldom to be heard; but the cluck and the diphthongs are much more frequent. The cluck, in particular, seems the most completely at home among them: scarcely a word occurs without it. The gurgling in the throat is much deeper, and hence ensue the most disagreeable nasal tones. The speech ends with a sort of singing sound, which dies away by degrees, and is often some seconds before it wholly ceases.”

The reverend Thomas Arbousset, of the French mission in Basutoland, has also given a vocabulary,[3] seven pages in length, but unfortunately he confused Hottentots with Bushmen, and his list contains many words adopted even from Sesuto. It was prepared about the year 1837. In his vocabulary he did not attempt to introduce any symbols whatever to represent the clicks, so that to the philological student it is valueless. His remarks upon the language, as he heard it spoken, are, however, to the point. He says:

“Their language is harsh, broken, full of monosyllables, which are uttered with strong aspirations from the chest, and a guttural articulation as disagreeable as it is difficult. … It is not without reason that it has been said of them that they cluck like turkeys. … The clucks are especially found at the recurrence of a letter which is of a harsh guttural pronunciation. … As this horrible aspiration recurs incessantly in the mouth of the Bushmen, one is inclined to say that they bark rather than speak.”

In 1862 the late Dr. W. H. I. Bleek, a man of great learning patience, and industry, was appointed custodian of the Grey Library in Capetown. In that capacity he had much to do, but he found time out of office hours to carry on the philological studies for which he had been specially trained, and in which pursuit he was an enthusiast, though his judgment was clear and even cold. At first his only opportunity of acquiring any knowledge of the Bushman language was by visiting Robben Island and picking up words and short phrases from prisoners there, but after a time the government allowed him to take to his home two decrepit men of that race whose terms of imprisonment had nearly expired, and when they were liberated two others were obtained in the same manner. These induced some of their relations to join them, and presently a whole Bushman family was living on his ground. From time to time as one party left another arrived, so that the material to work with was always abundant.

To his surprise Dr. Bleek soon found that he was in contact, not with degraded Hottentots or even with people closely allied to Hottentots, but with representatives of an actually primitive race. From that moment he devoted his attention almost entirely to the study of the habits, folklore, and particularly the language of the Bushmen, for their race in South Africa in its purity was almost extinct, and he realised that in a very few years such researches would be no longer possible. In this study he was warmly assisted by his sister-in-law, Miss L. C. Lloyd, who was fortunate in possessing a very sharp ear, and who was soon able to distinguish the different clicks, smacking of the lips, and guttural sounds that form so large a portion of Bushman speech.

A mass of material was collected, but was not ready for publication when, to the great loss of students throughout the world, the death of Dr. Bleek on the 17th of August 1875 put an end to his devoted and most useful labour. His Comparative Grammar of South African Languages is, and must always remain, a standard work, though it too was left incomplete and contains very little upon the Bushman tongue.

Miss Lloyd was then engaged to take charge of the Grey Library until a competent successor to Dr. Bleek could be obtained, and she resolved to continue the Bushman researches out of office hours and gather as much material as she could, before arranging for publication. In all South Africa there was no one so well qualified for the task as she. Not a few European children on farms had in earlier times learned to utter the strange sounds which constitute Bushman speech, and could converse freely with the savages, but none of these had ever been able to commit their knowledge to writing and it had died with them. Miss Lloyd was acquainted with two dialects, was accustomed to take down the sentences as they came from the lips of the speakers, and was therefore familiar with the various symbols used to represent the different sounds, and had the great advantage of having been trained to the work by so able a teacher as her deceased brother-in-law.

In addition to what was in manuscript when Dr. Bleek died, she collected materials upon the mythology, legends, fables, poetry, customs, and superstitions of the Bushmen, in two dialects, and then proceeded to Europe with a view of obtaining competent assistance in preparing the work of her brother-in-law and herself for the press. Some of it she had already translated into English. But unfortunately her health broke down so completely that it was only as a confirmed invalid she was able to write a little, and so the result of the labour of her brother-in-law and herself remained unavailable for the use of others until 1910, when one volume of Bushman text with English translations appeared. This is of great interest, for the language of the Bushmen is already almost entirely lost, and it would not be possible now to collect the material used in it. The few individuals of the race that remain south of the Zambesi and the Kunene have either adopted the language of their neighbours, as those in Central Africa seem to have done, or they have been compelled to use so many foreign words and phrases that the idiom is too corrupt to be of any scientific value as far as the vocabulary goes. A knowledge of the mode of putting words together to express ideas, or the grammatical structure, is of even greater importance than a knowledge of the words themselves used singly, and it would be with great difficulty that this could be obtained now from individuals still living, but it can be acquired with ease from Miss (later Dr.) Lloyd's book.

To show how cautiously Dr. Bleek proceeded in his researches, and how he at length came to realise that he was dealing with the speech of a race either identical with or at the same stage of culture as the palaeolithic negroids in Europe, some extracts from his writings are given here. In 1857 he wrote in the Cape Monthly Magazine:

“It is curious to notice that the Bushman tongue apparently agrees most, of all the Hottentot dialects, with that of the Cape, and next to it, with that of the Koranas, the latter being, in many respects, the connecting link between the Cape dialect and that of the Namaquas, in which the fullest and most original form of the Hottentot language has been preserved. But we must not forget here, that what materials for a knowledge of the Bushman tongue are at hand are as yet limited to vocabularies of one dialect, namely that of the district of the Winterveld, from the vicinity of Colesberg and Burghersdorp. Other Bushman dialects may be widely different, nor is it impossible that many so-called Bushmen are of quite different origin. However this may be, these Bushmen from the Winterveld have decidedly been distinct from the Hottentots, as a nation, for many centuries; for their language presents more than dialectical differences from that of the Hottentots. There are, indeed, many Bushman words similar to those in use among the Hottentots, and in the general features of their structure both languages agree together. But the grammatical forms which my vocabularies of the Bushman tongue contain are peculiar, and also the construction of sentences appears to be different from that of the Hottentot language.”

Before 1869 a great stride forward in knowledge was made, for in a volume termed The Cape and its People, published in that year, an article appeared from Dr. Bleek's pen dealing with the Bushman language from a scientific point of view. He wrote:

“The additional information which I have been able to collect (unsatisfactory as it is in extent) has impressed upon my mind this truth, that the Bushmen have been separate from their neighbours, the Hottentots, for at least many thousands of years… The task of taking down as exactly as possible the sounds of this language was, of course, a great difficulty, for as many as six different clicks, formed either by the tongue or the lips, can at the least be distinguished here. When endeavouring to give the right mark for each click, I have no doubt frequently erred, as my ear is not very acute nor accustomed to distinguish these sounds; but as the clicks and other different sounds are not contained in the grammatical portions of the words, my observations on the structure of the language are not affected by this deficiency.

“To show that the Bushman language, as far as we are acquainted with it, is entirely different from the other tongues of South Africa, we will briefly glance at the structure of them all. The South African languages, with the exception of the Bushman, all belong to one of two families. One of these great families of language is that called the Bantu, which contains Kaffir, Setshuana, etc. The other family—that of sex-denoting languages—is represented in South Africa by one member only, the Hottentot, the dialects of which do not differ essentially from each other.

“The Hottentot and Bantu languages have one very essential feature of their structure in common. In both, as a rule, each noun originally consists of two portions, one of which we will call the stem, and the other the representative element. The latter is a part of the noun which is also used to represent the whole noun, and in this manner either appears as a pronoun, or combines with other parts of speech, which are thereby referred to the noun. For example …

“These examples are sufficient to show the peculiar structure of the Zulu language, in which the nouns are divided into thirteen classes, by being formed with thirteen distinct prefixes, which are also used to represent their respective nouns. The structure of all South African languages, excepting Hottentot and Bushman, is essentially the same as that of Kaffir and Zulu, with regard to the concord and the classification of the nouns. The Hottentot language also possesses the same method of representing a whole noun by one of its parts; but in Hottentot the representative portion is not at the beginning of the noun (as prefix), but at the end (as suffix).

“There are in this manner eight different representative elements in Hottentot, as there are thirteen in Kaffir, and sixteen in some of the languages akin to Kaffir. … We have not been able to discover any trace in Bushman of such a system of representation of the nouns; and we cannot but conclude that it does not exist in this language. This may be explained in two different ways. Either the Bushman language never possessed the faculty of thus representing a noun by one of its parts, or, at least, had not a regular set of representative elements or pronouns, and has not developed a classification of the nouns dependent upon their forms of concord. If so (and there is no certain proof against such an assumption), the Bushman would belong to a very low order of language,—a stage in which no true pronouns (i.e. representatives of the nouns) were developed. But it may also be that Bushman, like many other languages descended from those in which the nouns were originally divided on the basis of this system of representing a noun by one of its parts, has lost this characteristic entirely. … It may have descended from a language possessing a rich system of concords based upon the representation of each noun by one of its parts. Such a system may have dwindled away (a process of which we have so many examples), and all traces of its existence may thus have disappeared. This is possible, but primá facie not so probable as the reverse proposition, that the Bushman language belongs to a lower stage of development, in which neither true pronouns, nor grammatical classes (or genders) of nouns, had any existence.

“The only instances which I have met with of anything like forms of concord in Bushman are the adjectives small and large, which, in this language, have different forms for the singular and plural respectively. Thus ǀeri is the singular of the adjective indicating small, and ǀĕn the plural; ǂuiya is the singular of the word for large, and ǂuita the plural; ǁkuken e ǃoai gan ǀeri one veldschoen is small, ǁkuǁku e ǃu gan ǀĕn the two veldschoens are small, ǁkuka gan ǁu ǂuiya the veldschoen is large, ǁkuǁku e ǃu gan ǁu ǂuita the two veldschoens are large, ǂnūî yan ǂuiya the seacow is large, ǂnūî e ǂoaya yan ǁu ǂuita the many seacows are large. … We should lay more stress upon this grammatical peculiarity, and conclude that we could discern in it the remnant of a former system of concords, if it were not that, as yet, it has only been observed in the sentences taken down from the mouth of one informant, who was not a pure Bushman. Yet it is difficult to see how he could have introduced this grammatical feature into the language, as the Hottentot construction is by no means identical in this instance.[4]

“Many nouns in Bushman vary in their terminations according to their position or use. Thus veldschoen may be ǁkuki, ǁkuka, or ǁkuken. Our knowledge of the language is not yet sufficiently advanced to enable us to discern the exact value of these endings; but it does not appear that they have anything to do with the concord, or even clearly with the distinction of singular and plural. … As the Bushman nouns do not appear to possess any representative parts, the singular and plural cannot, of course, be distinguished by the mutual correspondence of such parts. The mode in which singular and plural are distinguished from each other in the Bushman language is far more primitive, viz. by reduplication of the first portion of each noun. Thus ǀnũm is beard, and ǀnũǀnũm beards, ǁnũ ear, ǁnũǁnũntu ears, ǁnõa foot, ǁnõaǁnõa feet, tű mouth, tűtű mouths, ǁkun wing, ǁkoǁkun wings, ku arm, kukun arms, ǂkoa leg, ǂkoaǂkoaken legs. In some of the latter nouns it appears as if the ending n, or en, or ken were, besides the reduplication, a distinguishing mark of the plural; but as this ending sometimes certainly also occurs in the singular, it would be rash to consider it as the indicator of the plural. The reduplication, on the contrary, has as yet only been observed in the plural of nouns. This particular employment of the process of reduplication for the purpose of forming plurals is, as far as I am aware, peculiar to the Bushman language. …

“Next to the plural, the feature as yet most clearly perceived with regard to Bushman nouns is the formation of the genitive. … In Bushman the genitive particle is suffixed to the noun, but as there is no sort of concord by which the noun in the genitive can be referred by a representative element to the noun which it defines, the noun in the genitive can only precede the other noun. The suffixed genitive particle is perfectly different in Bushman and Hottentot, the Bushman particle being ka, ga, ya, or a; e.g. ǁkā is lion, and ǁkā ga ān lion's flesh, sa ga ān eland's flesh, ǁkā ga ǃnu lion's foot, i.e. lion's traces. This Bushman genitive particle may, like the corresponding one in Hottentot, be also totally omitted. In fact, the cases of such omission appear to be more frequent than those in which the genitive particle is employed, e.g. ǁkā ǂkui lion tail, koro ǂkui jackal tail, toï ǂkui ostrich tail. The difference in the form of the suffixed genitive particle in Hottentot and Bushman is as significant as the difference in the use of the prefixed genitive particles of in English and de in French. Although the former is identical in meaning with the French particle, the difference in its form shows at what a distance English grammar stands, genealogically speaking, from that of the Romance languages.

“One other point of great and conclusive dissimilarity between Bushman and other South African languages is discernible in the forms of the so-called personal pronouns. They are, as far as we know them, n I, a thou, ha he, she, it, i we, u you. Of the numerals, the second, ǃku or ǃú, at least offers no resemblance either to the same numeral in the Bantu languages, or in Hottentot; and beyond two every higher number is ǂoaya many, although the Bushman may indicate with his fingers to some extent the exact number, e.g. ǂoaya, showing four fingers, i.e. as many as four, will indicate four, and ǂoaya, showing seven fingers, seven.

“In this deficiency of higher numerals the Bushman race appears to be even more primitive than the Australian tribes, which generally have distinct names for the numerals as far as three or four. But the exceedingly ancient character of the Bushman language appears to be in no way better indicated than by their very curious phonetic system. It is customary to class Hottentot and Bushman together under the category of clicking languages; and, to a certain extent, this is correct. But in the frequency of these strange sounds, in the number of their varieties, and in the range of organs which are employed in their pronunciation, the Bushman tongue by far exceeds the Hottentot language. In Bushman, clicks are not merely produced by the tongue, but also by the lips. There can be no question that, among the sounds of human language clicks are those which it requires the greatest effort to produce. The study of the history of language shows us that the further the speech of a people develops, the more it throws off such sounds as impede the pronunciation or render it more difficult. Those languages, therefore, in which the sounds are easiest of utterance are the farthest removed from the primitive phonetic systems of human speech, whilst those which abound in uncouth and almost unpronounceable sounds must be presumed to have better retained their ancient phonetic features.”

As late as September 1873 Dr. Bleek intimated in an article in the Cape Monthly Magazine that he had not even then completely acquired all the information that he needed. His words were: “the present attempt thoroughly to master the Bushman language has been dictated by purely scientific motives.” And in classifying the languages of South Africa, he said:

“Three kinds of native languages are spoken within the borders of this colony:—1, Kaffir, belonging to the great family of prefix-pronominal languages, which fill almost the whole of South Africa, and extend to the north-west at least as far as Sierra Leone; 2, Hottentot, the only known South African member of the very extensive sex-denoting family which has spread itself over South Africa, Europe, and a great part of Asia; 3, Bushman, relationship unknown as yet, presenting outward features of the so-called genderless (or as Max Muller calls it, Turanian) class, if related to Hottentot, so exceedingly metamorphosed as to be more different from it than English is from Latin; yet very primitive in its uncouth sounds and in certain structural features, while many others are evidently the result of processes of contraction, and of strong grammatical and phonetical changes, the explanation of which leads us back far into the former history of this original language.”

It might be thought that human organs of sound would be incapable of producing a greater variety of clicks and guttural aspirations than those used by Bushmen in ordinary conversation, but it was not so. They put language into the mouths of various animals, and in doing so gave to each variety of beast and bird a peculiar lisp, or grunt, or hiss, or bleat, usually an imitation of the natural sound produced by it, which they introduced in every word. No adult European could ever hope to imitate these sounds, and Dr. Bleek's widow informed the writer that her husband abandoned the attempt in despair. They were not needed, however, for an analytical study of the language, and therefore nothing was lost through not being able to imitate them. To the ordinary clicks a European ear soon becomes accustomed, and they are not then unpleasant, as men find after being long in contact with the Xosas or the Namaqua Hottentots, who, however, use them far more sparingly than did the Bushmen; but the deep guttural sounds proceeding from the throats of the pygmy savages remained always very disagreeable. A Bushman on a hillside calling to another at a distance, for instance, might be said to croak rather than to speak.[5]

A remarkable circumstance in connection with the Bushman language is its possession of a verb of such wonderful power, conjugated by means of particles, that any action that can be expressed in English can be expressed with equal precision in it. In the infancy of the language it is evident that the verb became more highly developed than the other parts of speech, as it may have been more necessary to meet the wants of the people. Stand, run, eat, stood, ran, ate, shall stand, could run, have eaten, for instance, might be more useful words for a savage to know than the names or qualities of the objects around him.

The roots of many Bushman words are apparently polysyllabic, thus marking a great difference from Hottentot, all of whose roots are monosyllabic. But it is possible that upon very close analysis some of those polysyllables might prove to be really composites.

In counting, besides the method of showing the fingers described by Dr. Bleek, some Bushmen used the expression two two for four, two two one for five, two two two for six, and so on up to ten, beyond which none of them could proceed. The dialects differed from each other as widely as German from English, if not much more so, and it is possible that in some of those now extinct the means for expressing numbers may have been more perfect than in those that are known, in none of which has any word for a numeral higher than three been discovered. They could, however, easily make their friends acquainted with the exact number say of five elands over a ridge by describing them as two lying down, one looking towards the water, and two looking towards a particular hill.

The principal cause of the Bushmen who still survive having lost the use of their ancestral tongue was the extreme facility with which they learned other languages. In this respect their minds were like those of little children, who acquire a foreign tongue, when brought into contact with those who speak it, far more readily than their parents do. A young Bushman on a farm in the interior of the Cape Colony in the early years of the nineteenth century, after five or six months' residence, could usually speak Dutch quite fluently. But this acquirement of a new language did not affect his way of thinking or his conduct in any high degree: he remained as he was before, a savage.

The Bushmen occupied the whole of South Africa, except the district bordering on the Indian ocean between the Zambesi and Sabi rivers, until a century or two before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Europeans,[6] when they were deprived of a considerable portion of it by the people known to us as Hottentots and Bantu, who came down from the north. Being better armed and disciplined than the aboriginal savages, the invaders had little difficulty in exterminating them or driving them into the barren parts.

The variations between the three classes of human beings occupying the country after that event were very marked. In order to bring them clearly before the reader they are given here in consecutive paragraphs, though this chapter deals particularly with the primitive inhabitants only.

Bushmen: frame dwarfish,[7] colour yellowish brown, face triangular or fox-like in outline, eyes small and deeply sunk, root of nose low, and the whole organ extremely broad, jaws very protuberant, but upper part of face almost vertical, head dotted over with little knots of twisted wiry hair not much larger than peppercorns, in general no beard whatever, ears without lobes, chest particularly well developed, stomach protuberant, back exceedingly hollow, buttocks—especially of adult females—of very large dimensions, limbs slender, hands and feet diminutive, arms very long, skin looser than that of other races, so that in times of scarcity or old age it was not only deeply wrinkled, but often formed folds; weapons chiefly bow and poisoned arrow; pursuits those of a hunter; government none but parental and leadership in war and the chase; habitations caverns, rock shelters, holes scooped in the ground, or mats spread over slight frames made of branches of trees; only domestic animal the dog; demeanour that of perfect independence; language abounding in clicks and in deep guttural sounds.

Photograph of a Bushman girl.

Hottentots: frame slight but sometimes tall, better formed than Bushmen, but back hollow, buttocks of the females often protuberant but generally less so than those of Bushmen, head scantily covered with little tufts of short crisped hair, occasional marks of beard, cheeks hollow, nose flat, eyes far apart and often to appearance set obliquely, hands and feet small, colour light yellow to olive; weapons assagai, knobkerie, bow and arrow, shield; pursuits pastoral and to a very limited extent metallurgic; government feeble; habitations slender frames of wood covered with reed mats; domestic animals ox, sheep, and dog; demeanour inconstant, marked by levity; language abounding in clicks, but less so than that of the Bushmen, and without the croaking sounds of the wild people.

Bantu: great variety of form and feature in the different tribes, but, generally speaking, frame of those on the coast robust and as well formed as that of Europeans, of those in the interior somewhat weaker, head covered closely with crispy hair, frequently bearded, cheeks full, nose usually flat but occasionally prominent, hands and feet large, colour different tints of brown to deep black; weapons assagai, knobkerie, shield, and among the northern and interior tribes battle-axe and bow and arrow; pursuits agricultural, pastoral, and metallurgic; government firmly constituted with perfect system of laws; habitations strong framework of wood covered with thatch; domestic animals ox, goat, sheep, dog, barnyard poultry; demeanour ceremonious, grave, respectful to superiors in rank; language musical, words abounding in vowels and inflected to produce harmony in sound.

The skull measurements show great differences in the three classes, though the number—especially of Hottentot skulls—carefully examined by competent men is as yet too small for an average to be laid down with precision.

What is termed the horizontal cephalic index, that is the proportion of the breadth of a skull to its length, is given by Professor Sir William Flower, conservator of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, from thirteen Bantu specimens as 73 to 100. The highest in this series is 76.8, and the lowest 68.4. Dr. Gustaf Fritsch, from thirteen specimens, gives the average as 72 to 100. The highest in this series is 78, and the lowest 64.3. M. Paul Broca, the French authority, gives the average of his measurements as 72. Thus the Bantu are dolichocephali, that is people whose skulls average in breadth less than three-fourths of their length. The average horizontal cephalic index of white people is 78.7.

Of Hottentots, only four that are certainly genuine specimens are given in Professor Flower's volume. The average horizontal cephalic index of these is 72.7, the highest being 75, and the lowest 70.3. Dr. Fritsch had also only four skulls which were certainly those of Hottentots. The average horizontal cephalic index of these he found to be 72.6, the highest being 77, and the lowest 65.9. M. Broca gives this index from his measurements as 72. The Hottentots are thus certainly true dolichocephali. But even in those that are regarded as pure Hottentot there may have been a mixture of Bushman blood, from causes that will be explained in the next chapter, so that the skull measurements are not altogether to be depended upon. This, however, would have raised the average, not lowered it.

Of genuine Bushman skulls, Professor Flower gives the measurements of five. The average horizontal cephalic index is 76.6, the highest being 78.4, and the lowest 75.7. The late Dr. George Rolleston. professor of anatomy in the university of Oxford, in an appendix to Oates' Matabeleland, gives the measurements of six Bushman skulls in the museum of the university. The average horizontal cephalic index was 75.7, the highest being 81, and the lowest 70. Dr. Fritsch measured five Bushman skulls, and found the average horizontal cephalic index 74.2, the highest being 78.5, and the lowest 69.5. M. Broca found the average of his measurements as low as 72, but it is doubtful whether his specimens were not Hottentot skulls. It would appear that the Bushmen are on the border line separating the dolichocephalic from the mesaticephalic races, the breadth of skulls of the latter averaging between three-fourths and four-fifths of the length.

The cranial capacity, or size of the brain of each, is given by Professor Flower as: Bantu 1485, Hottentot 1407, and Bushman 1288 cubic centimetres. The average brain of a European is 1497 cubic centimetres in size. Dr. Bolleston found the average cranial capacity of his six Bushman specimens as low as 1195 cubic centimetres, and all other recorded measurements place these people among the extreme microcephalic or small-skulled races. The Hottentots in this classification are mesocephali, a name applied to races whose average cranial capacity is between 1350 and 1450 cubic centimetres, and the Bantu, like Europeans, are megacephali or large skulled.

The alveolar index, index of prognathism, or the slope of a line from the suture at the top of the forehead to the point in the upper jaw between the insertion of the front teeth, is an important characteristic. According to the angle which this line makes with the horizontal plane of the skull, races are classified as orthognathous, mesognathous, or prognathous. In this classification the Bushman comes nearest the European, his face above the upper jaw being much more vertical than that of either of the others. Between the Hottentots and the Bantu there is scarcely any difference.[8]

A marked feature of the Bushman skull is the smallness of the lower jaw and the want of prominence of the chin. The upper jaw does not overlap the lower as much as in the generality of other races.[9] The teeth of the Bushmen did not become loose and fall out, as with us, but they wore down with age, until in extreme cases they were almost level with the jaw. There is wanting in the frame of the Bushman jaw in many instances the means for firm attachment of the muscles that move the tongue.[10] In this respect he is among the least advanced of ail races. The lower jaw of the Hottentot is much better formed, but is not by any means as massive as that of a member of the Bantu family or a European. The skulls of the three classes of people described also differ from each other and from those of Europeans in many particulars which are only intelligible to professional anatomists. The subject can be studied in special works, and it is not necessary therefore to enter more deeply into it here.[11]

The pygmy hunters, who were the primitive inhabitants of South Africa, having no word of their own to distinguish themselves from other races, received from the first European colonists the name of Bushmen, on account of their preference for places abounding in bushes or shrubs, where they had a wonderful faculty of concealing themselves, partly owing to the colour of their skins being almost the same as that of the soil.

After the advent of the Hottentots and Bantu the Bushmen lost the ground adjoining the coast that the invaders chose to occupy, but they managed to keep possession for a long time of the mountains and even the lower country between the widely separated kraals of the recent immigrants. Constant war was carried on against them, but they fought with the utmost determination, and could not be expelled as long as a dozen men in any locality remained capable of making resistance. They never thought of submitting and becoming the slaves of the invaders, but like the lions and leopards whose habits they knew so well, when brought to bay they did all the harm they could to their opponents, and died breathing defiance. The struggle was not over when Europeans arrived on the scene, and the Bushmen at that time still held sole possession of almost the entire interior plain from the Limpopo river southward to the second range of mountains from the sea, of the larger portion of the Kalahari desert and the land bordering on it, and of many parts of the first two steps upwards from the ocean, west, south, and east.

Though regarded and spoken of by the Hottentots and the Bantu as wild animals of a noxious kind that should be exterminated, in one particular this opinion was not acted upon. Bushman girls when captured were generally kept as concubines by the destroyers of their families, and thus a mixture of blood was gradually taking place. Captured girls, unless they could make their escape at once, were detained without difficulty, because if after a time they returned to their own people they were put to death by them as renegades, though under compulsion. Some of the Betshuana indeed, in the early days of their migration southward when they were few in number and weak, endeavoured to fraternise with the Bushmen, and obtained girls without force, from which alliances the people now known as the Masarwa sprang; but as soon as the invaders increased in number and became strong they acted towards the wild hunters as implacable foes, just as all other Bantu did. There never was any intercourse between Bushmen males and Bantu or Hottentot females, as these would have looked with horror upon such a degradation.

  1. “Equally untrue is the assertion that the nation of the Bosjesmans is composed of fugitive slaves and Hottentots. They are, and ever have been, a distinct people, having their own peculiar language, and their own peculiar customs, if the terms language and customs can be applied to people upon the very lowest step in the order of civilisation, as the Bosjesmans may certainly be esteemed: one might almost call this extraordinary race without customs and without language. No Hottentot understands a word of the Bosjesman language; and the nation was hated by all others on account of its habits of plunder and disregard of the rights of property, long before the Europeans settled in South Africa.”—Travels in Southern Africa in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806, by Henry Lichtenstein. Translated from the German by Anne Plumptre. Two quarto volumes, published at London in 1812 and 1815.
  2. Transactions of the Missionary Society quoted in The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795–1895, by Richard Lovett, M.A. Two demi octavo volumes, published at London in 1899.
  3. Narrative of an Exploratory Tour to the North-East of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, by the revs. T. Arbousset and F. Daumas. Translated from the original French, and published in a foolscap octavo volume in London in 1852.
  4. At a later date Dr. Bleek ascertained that other adjectives referring to size, as short, long, etc., have in the plural a form different from the singular. All other adjectives have the same form in both numbers.
  5. I state this from my own experience, having heard such unpleasant sounds more than half a century ago.
  6. The time cannot be given more closely than this. That it could not have been longer than a very few centuries will be shown in the chapters upon the Hottentots and the Bantu.
  7. Occasionally among the Masarwa in the Betshuana country individuals over one hundred and sixty-seven centimetres or five English feet and a half are found, but these are mixed breeds. They show Bantu blood in their darker colour as well as in their general form and size. On account of their habits they are termed Bushmen by Europeans, but their descent from mixed parentage is known to themselves and to their pure Betshuana neighbours.
  8. Measurements of Bushman, Hottentot, and Bantu crania of high scientific value are given by Mr. Frank C. Shrubsall in a paper forty-four pages in length, entitled Notes on some Bushman Crania and Bones from the South African Museum, Capetown, published in London in 1907 in Volume V of the Annals of the South African Museum.
  9. A dentist with a very large practice informs me that there are occasional instances of the upper and lower teeth in Europeans meeting, though they are rare. With Bushmen it seems to be constant.
  10. This was pointed out to me many years ago by Dr. Waterston when we were comparing some Hottentot and Bushman skulls in the South African Museum.
  11. It is perhaps presumptuous for one who knows nothing of anatomy to venture to make observations upon skull measurements, but it strikes me forcibly that in some particulars at least the form of the cranium might be slightly changed by the food ordinarily consumed by the people. Take, for instance, the Ancient Shellmound Men living for numberless generations on the seacoast of South Africa, and consuming food easily masticated, the muscles that move the lower jaw would not be so powerful as those of people of the same race living upon tough flesh and hard roots. This might in time cause modifications, though maybe very slight, in the bones of the skull.