Ethnography and Condition of South Africa before A.D. 1505/Chapter 5

Chapter V.

The Hottentots or Khoikhoi (continued).

A few of the smallest and weakest clans of Hottentots who had lost their cattle in war or by disease, or who were the poorest members of tribes suffering from want, and had to abandon the communities to which they belonged and seek for means of existence elsewhere, lived chiefly upon the produce of the sea. They adopted from necessity the same means of obtaining a scanty supply of food as the earlier inhabitants who raised such enormous shell mounds as the one recently removed at East London had resorted to. They had neither boats nor hooks, but they managed to catch fish by throwing light assagais with lines attached to them from rocks standing out in deep water, and by making weirs in favourable situations along the shore enclosing considerable spaces which were left nearly dry at low tide. Shellfish also formed a portion of their food, and occasionally a dead whale would drift ashore and furnish them with a feast. Further, they gathered all the edible plants in their neighbourhood, and captured as many wild animals as they could. Shell and ash heaps made by these people bearing signs of being quite modern, that is dating back only two or three hundred years, are found in several places along the coast from Walfish Bay to Natal.

The heaps contain ordinary Hottentot implements, in rare instances human skeletons, and bones of animals obtained in the chase, always broken in order that the marrow might be extracted. The perforated stone weights for digging-sticks found in them are usually of the shape of compressed spheres, nearly resembling in form those of Scotland referred to on a previous page. There is a good collection of specimens of various shapes and sizes in the South African museum in Capetown. It is supposed that the stones perforated by Hottentots were always of a distinct type from those drilled by Bushmen, but this is not certain, though as far as is known only spherical weights are picked up in tracts of country that were exclusively occupied by the aborigines, and compressed spheres wherever the later intruders or people connected with them lived, where also a few stones have been found that have first been perforated and then chipped into a convenient shape for use.

Hottentots, or it would be more correct to say mixed-breeds largely of Bushman blood who had been brought up at Hottentot kraals, who spoke the Hottentot language, and whose ideas and normal habits were those of Hottentots, were found living in the manner here indicated when Europeans first came to the country—one small band where Capetown now stands,—and on the coast of Namaqualand there were some existing in a similar state after the middle of the nineteenth century. As far as food, clothing, and lodging were concerned, they were in no better condition than the Bushmen who lived in a similar manner, though there was always the hope before them of acquiring cattle by a successful raid, in which case they would at once revert to the ordinary mode of living of the pastoral communities.

Only a few of the recent shell heaps on the South African coast, however, were made by Hottentot-speaking people. Much the greater number were made by Bushmen, as is proved by the articles found in them and by the paintings on rocks in their neighbourhood; and these may be taken as forming a connected series with the most ancient mounds. A painting is the most positive evidence of the locality having been occupied by Bushmen, as the Hottentots did not practise that art, and the captives of the wild race living with them, being females only, could not introduce it.

The Hottentots, as observed before, did not form a continuous line of settlement, but a series of dots, frequently far apart, and between these stations Bushmen still lived, though the enmity between the two races was so strong that they were constantly seeking to destroy each other. This will account for shell mounds being formed by both people at the same time. But in point of fact those destitute Hottentots who lived as beachrangers, as the first European colonists termed them, in all probability had more Bushman than pure Khoikhoi blood in their veins, though they would have resented being termed Sana,[1] just as a mulatto prides himself upon his descent from a white man, and resents being termed a negro. In a pastoral clan the children of captive Bushman girls would be regarded as illegitimate, and would not inherit cattle from their fathers. The daughters of the next generation by Khoikhoi fathers might, and most likely did, occupy a better position, but the sons would remain paupers and dependents of some wealthy man. When fresh captives were made, their blood would become mixed with that of the half-breeds, and thus there would be men and women of only one-fourth Khoikhoi descent, and yet Khoikhoi in language, ideas, and habits.

This process having gone on for many generations, there must have been a mixture of blood in various proportions in the individual members of a clan. A raid would be made on a neighbouring tribe, and a herd of cattle would be secured, of which some of the mixed-breeds would obtain a share, when they would at once assume the position of honourable men and acquire all the rights of the purest Khoikhoi. But in the vanquished tribe there would be a similar class of mixed-breeds, and now that meat and milk had become so scarce that there was not sufficient food to keep all alive, the poorest of them would be compelled to separate from the others, and to seek subsistence along the shore until such time as chance placed an opportunity in their way of obtaining horned cattle or sheep by plunder. Their condition was more abject than that of pure Bushmen, who greatly excelled them as hunters, but as far as wild plants went, there was as great a quantity and as large a variety along the ocean shore as anywhere inland.

The Hottentots were a superstitious people who placed great faith in the efficacy of charms to ward off evil. They even besought favours from certain pieces of root so used, and if their wishes were successful, they praised and thanked the charms. This superstition might in time have developed into idolatry, but it was arrested before it reached that stage. They believed that certain occurrences foreboded good or ill luck, and were always on the watch for omens. Their veneration of the mantis, an insect that bears so close a resemblance either to a withered leaf or to a dry stalk of grass that its presence cannot be detected except when it is in motion, has been asserted by many writers, some of whom have even termed it the Hottentot God, but it has been called in question by others. The reason of this contradiction is that their notions regarding the insect were acquired from their Bushman female captives, who had been taught by their parents that it was endowed with the power of exchanging its form for that of any other animal, and that it could confer good or bad fortune upon human beings. Clans in which Bushman blood was strong would therefore venerate the mantis, and others would pay little or no regard to it.

They lived in dread of ghosts and evil spirits, but with no more conception of the nature of such shadowy beings, or of the mode of receiving harm, than little children have. They invoked blessings from the moon, the harbinger of their festivities, to whose praise they sang and danced when it appeared as new. In later times those who had come in contact with Bantu prayed for blessings from dead ancestors, to whose shades sacrifices were offered by priests on important occasions, but this was evidently a custom of foreign origin. Generally they implored protection and favour from a mythical hero named Tsuiǁgoab or Heitsi-eibib, who was believed by them to have lived on the earth and to have died and risen again many times, and whose worship consisted in throwing a branch of a tree, a bit of wood, or an additional stone upon a cairn at a place where he was supposed to have been once buried. Tales of the wonderful deeds of this Heitsi-eibib were commonly narrated by old men, and were implicitly believed by every one who heard them. All the actions ascribed to him were those of a man, but of one endowed with supernatural power.

Thus he was said on one occasion to have been pursued by an enemy, and with his family and his followers to have come to a large river. He said, “my grandfather's father, separate thyself that we may pass through, and close thyself afterwards.” The river did so. Heitsi-eibib and his people passed through in safety, and when the enemy followed them, the river closed again and they were all drowned. This tale may seem to have had its origin in the teaching of missionaries, but it has been obtained from so many sources, some of which were never directly or indirectly under missionary influence, that it is beyond doubt original.

Another of the tales related of Heitsi-eibib is as follows: ǂGāǂgorib sat by a large hole in the ground, and when people passed by he told them to throw a stone at his forehead. When they did this, the stone rebounded and stunned them, and they fell into the hole and died. Heitsi-eibib heard of this, so he went to the place, and ǂGāǂgorib challenged him to throw a stone. He declined to do so, and they then began to chase each other round the hole, saying “Push Heitsi-eibib down! Push ǂGāǂgorib down! Push Heitsi-eibib down! Push ǂGāǂgorib down!” At last Heitsi-eibib was pushed down, but he said “my grandfather's father, raise up thy bottom and let me out.” The hole did so, and he came out. They began to chase each other round it again, saying “Push Heitsi-eibib down! Push ǂGāǂgorib down! Push Heitsi-eibib down! Push ǂGāǂgorib down!” and Heitsi-eibib was thrown in the second time. He said “my grandfather's father, raise up thy bottom and let me out.” The hole did so. This happened many times, but at last when ǂGāǂgorib was looking on one side, Heitsi-eibib struck him behind the ear and stunned him, so that he fell into the hole and could not get out again. From that time onward the people had rest, because ǂGāǂgorib was conquered.

Still another of these tales is given, as it records one of the deaths of Heitsi-eibib, and of his coming to life again. It is in the words of the reverend G. Krönlein, as translated by him from the Nama original.

When Heitsi-eibib was travelling about with his family, they came to a valley in which the raisin-tree[2] was ripe, and he was there attacked by a severe illness. Then his young (second) wife said, “this brave one is taken ill on account of these raisins; death is here at the place.” The old man (Heitsi-eibib), however, told his son ǃUrisib (the whitish one), “I shall not live, I feel it; thou must, therefore, cover me when I am dead with soft stones.” And he spoke further, “this is the thing which I order you to do: of the raisin-trees of this valley you shall not eat, for if you eat of them I shall infect you, and you will surely die in a similar way.”

His young wife said, “he is taken ill on account of the raisins of this valley. Let us bury him quickly, and let us go.”

So he died there, and was covered flatly with soft stones according as he had commanded. Then they went away.

When they had moved to another place, and were unpacking there, they heard always from the side whence they came a noise as of people eating raisins and singing. In this manner the eating and singing ran:

“I, father of ǃUrisib,
Father of this unclean one,
I, who had to eat the raisins, and died,
And dying live.”

The young wife perceived that the noise came from the side where the old man's grave was, and said, “ǃUrisib, go and look.” Then the son went to the old man's grave, where he saw traces which he recognised to be his father's footmarks, and returned home. Then the young wife said, “it is he alone, therefore act thus:

Do so to the man who ate raisins on the windward side,
Take care of the wind that thou creepest upon him from the leeward;
Then intercept him on his way to the grave,
And when thou hast caught him, do not let him go.”

He did accordingly, and they came between the grave and Heitsi-eibib, who, when he saw this, jumped down from the raisin-tree, and ran quickly, but was caught at the grave. Then he said, “let me go, for I am a man who has been dead, that I may not infect you.” But the young wife said, “keep hold of the rogue.”

So they brought him home, and from that day he was fresh and hale.

Dr. Theophilus Hahn, the son of a missionary, who spent his youth among the Namaqua and learned to speak their language as soon as he did that of his parents, in his Tsuni-ǁGoam, the Supreme Being of the Khoikhoi, published in London in 1881, states that the Namaqua believe Tsui-ǁGoab, or Heitsi-eibib as otherwise called, to be a powerful and beneficent being, who lives in the red sky. There is also a powerful evil being, named ǁGaunab,[3] who lives in the black sky and does harm to men, who on that account fear and worship him. In a series of combats with ǁGaunab, Tsui-ǁGoab was repeatedly overcome, but after every struggle grew stronger, till at last he killed ǁGaunab by a blow behind the ear. He was, however, wounded in the knee, and has been lame ever since, whence his name, the wounded knee. At early dawn the Namaqua look towards the east, and implore blessings from him.

Dr. Hahn asserts his belief that this myth originated in the apparent conflict between light and darkness at dawn, and he gives the reasons that led him to this conclusion, which are mainly philological. If this be correct, the myth had an origin as lofty in ideal as that of many of the Aryans, but other inquirers are inclined to attribute it to the existence of some prominent man in olden time, whose exploits became magnified and distorted in legends. As they believe the moon dies and comes to life again, they may very easily have imagined this great man of their race to have done the same, or the deeds of different individuals at different times may have become blended under one name, as in some Bantu traditions.

Tsui-ǁgoab was also believed to have been the ancestor of the whole Hottentot race, and likewise to be the moon, for these people, with childlike simplicity, could not comprehend that such various suppositions were incapable of being reconciled with each other. In the corrupted form of Utixo, the first Protestant missionaries to the Bantu used the word Tsui-ǁgoab to signify God, and it is so employed to the present day.

Many cairns of considerable size, formed of small stones capable of being carried by one individual, have been found in various parts of South Africa, but only a few of these were raised by Hottentots at places where they supposed Heitsi-eibib to have been buried. The Bushmen erected cairns over some of their dead, and it is not unlikely that the Hottentots merely enlarged such of these as they found where they settled. Some of the Bantu also erected cairns over the bodies of their chiefs, but these are more massive and are well known, so that they cannot be confused with the graves of Heitsi-eibib. The adding a stone to such a heap, at first regarded merely as a mark of respect to the dead who lay there, might easily in course of time come to be considered as an act of worship.

The system of religion of the Hottentots could not be explained by themselves, what they understood being little more than that the customs connected with it had come down to them from their ancestors. They had not the faintest expectation of their own resurrection, or conception of a heaven or a hell. Sacred days or seasons were unknown to them, and if the graves of Heitsi-eibib be excepted, no places were set apart for worship of any kind.

A more improvident, unstable, thoughtless people never existed. Those among them who had cattle were without care or grief, and usually spent the greater part of the day in sleeping. They delighted, however, in dancing by moonlight to music, which they produced from reeds similar to those used by the Bushmen, but superior in tone and effect. Visitors of rank were also welcomed and entertained with dancing and music—if the noise produced from the reeds, sometimes accompanied by the beating of a drum made by stretching the dried skin of an antelope over a hollow block of wood, can be so called.[4] Active in this exercise and in hunting, in all other respects they were extremely indolent. The labour of collecting wild plants and most of that of building and removing huts was performed by the women.

Their filthiness of person, clothing, and habitation was disgusting to Europeans, but was unobserved by themselves. Their dwellings swarmed with vermin, which were not taken much notice of, and were only kept down by the frequent removal of the mat huts to clean ground. The greasing of their persons prevented that annoyance from vermin which to civilised people would have been unendurable, and besides from constant exposure without clothing their skins were tougher than ours.

They enjoyed eating food that would have turned the stomach of the least delicate of Europeans, for the sense of smelling with them—as with all people of a low type—was extremely dull. Thus in the accounts of early voyagers we read of their feasting upon the putrid flesh of seals, which the sailors could not venture near, and as late as 1860 some of those on the coast of Great Namaqualand were found by a party of men from one of the guano islands to be living upon a whale that had drifted ashore, and that the visitors were obliged to keep at a distance.

Still the Hottentots were not without good qualities. Their tempers were in general mild, and their hospitality to peaceable strangers as well as to individuals of their own clan was unbounded. Instances of strong affection between near relatives, such as father and daughter, before their habits became changed by contact with Europeans, are found in the early records of the Cape Colony and in the writings of missionaries. Even in the direst extremity of famine, cannibalism was never resorted to by people of their race.

They were in the habit of abandoning aged and helpless persons—even their own parents,—as well as sickly and deformed children, whom they usually left in some lonely place and allowed to die of hunger. But they regarded this as mercy, not as cruelty. In their opinion it was better for the sufferers themselves that a helpless wretch, too infirm to move about, or a cripple should give up life at once than linger on in misery. For the same reason, when a woman giving suck to an infant too young to care for itself died, the child was buried with its parent. When a woman gave birth to twins, if they were of different sexes the female was thrown away, if they were of the same sex the weaker of the two met that fate.

The Hottentots were polygamous in the sense that their customs admitted of a wealthy man having more wives than one, that is when his first wife became old or infirm he was allowed to take another, who was termed the young wife, but he was required to provide for the maintenance of the first, and did not discard her. Thus a rich man could have two legal wives at the same time, but the practice was by no means general. There were many kraals in which there was not a single case of polygamy. It was common with them, though not imperative, to take their wives not from their own but from a different clan, and in all cases men were prohibited from marrying any woman to whom they were related by blood, no matter how distantly.

The marriage customs required that cattle should be given by the bridegroom to the nearest relatives of the bride, but temporary unions were common, and indeed a system almost as bad as that of free love prevailed among at least some of the clans, for chastity on both sides between persons not related by blood was very lightly esteemed. One of the principal objects in their wars with each other was to take females as prisoners, who were generally treated and regarded as mere concubines, but were sometimes raised to the dignity of wives. The difference from a European point of view may seem obscure, but it involved a right over the distribution of the milk, and upon it depended the inheritance of the sons, the daughters, except in the ruling families, inheriting nothing. Female captives of Bushman blood occupied the lower position. There was no religious or moral scruple in operation against conduct of this kind, for they had no conception that it was in any way wrong. To their ideas it was simply the natural right of the strong to take from the weak.

Captain Alexander, who managed to ingratiate himself with the Namaquas, obtained from a party of old men a large amount of information upon their customs, in reply to the following questions which he put to them:

What laws have the Namaquas?

They have none, they only listen to their chiefs.

In the old times used they to sow any grain, or had they gardens?

No; they did nothing of the sort—not before the missionaries showed them how to sow and plant.

What could the Namaquas make before the missionaries came to the Great river?

They could soften skins for their karosses, sew them together with sinews; make bows, arrows, assagais, and small axes; bambus for milk; and could weave rush mats.

What is the principal occupation of the men?


How are the women employed?

They put up the mat huts, soften skins, weave mats, and prepare the victuals. If they decline work they get the strap.

How is a chief chosen?

The eldest son of the last chief is selected.

How do the chiefs choose their wives?

Anyhow; from their own place, or from that of their neighbours.

How much is paid for a wife commonly?

From ten oxen to ten sheep, to the father of the girl; and if she is an orphan, her brother gets the amount of her price.

Is circumcision practised in Namaqualand?

No, not at all.

Do the people know anything of the stars?


Who is the greatest hunter here?

When a lion has to be killed, the chief must go out and endeavour to destroy it.

Where did the Namaquas first get iron?

We think we got it from the east before we saw white men.

Do the Namaquas believe in lucky and unlucky days, omens, &c.?

They don't know anything of these things.

Are there rainmakers in the land?


Do the people assemble in council or pitso, as the Betshuana do?

No, the chief merely talks with his headmen on any difficult case.

Has the captain any particular piece of the ox reserved for him?

No particular part.

Of what use have the missionaries been to the people about the Great river?

Before the missionaries came, the people knew nothing at all; they lived without any thought; they had no worship; all they cared for were their wives, children, cattle, and sheep.

What do the old Namaquas think becomes of people when they die?

They know nothing of these things; all they see is that people die and are buried, but what becomes of them they know not; and before the missionaries came to the Great river, the people had never heard of another world.

What had the Namaquas the most pleasure in, their women, tobacco, cattle, beads, or what?

(After some hesitation) They thought more of their sheep than of anything else; of tobacco they knew nothing some years ago; it was brought first from the south side of the Great river; and now, having tasted it, they prefer it to all things in the world.

What is the worst thing which could happen to a Namaqua?

The death of the sheep.

How did they use their sheep? did they milk them, did they eat them?

They milked them, and sometimes killed one or two when they wanted a kaross. They never killed them if they had anything else to eat.

It will be noticed that in one or two of these replies the information given is slightly different from that in previous pages of this volume, which arises from the fact that the Namaqua chiefs possessed much more power over their followers than those of the tribes south of the Great or Orange river. Captain Alexander says further of their customs:

“I never saw or heard of a people with fewer ceremonies or observances. They take wives to themselves merely by giving presents to the parents; sometimes two chiefs will have four wives between them; this is, I think, new. When a young woman attains the age of puberty, she is led round the kraal, to touch various things for good luck; thus she touches the milk bambus in the houses, the rams in the fold. When a person is sick, the doctor comes and orders a good sheep to be killed, as he can do nothing without first eating plenty of fat; he reserves a little of the fat to smear the patient with, or he scarifies the flesh over the seat of the disease. When death happens, a hole is dug with a gemsbok's horn or a stick; the body is thrust into it in a sitting posture, stones are piled over it, and the horn or stick is left upright on the heap.”

The credulity of the Hottentots was that of children. Thus they really believed that there were Bushwomen who could change themselves into wild animals at will, as an instance of which the following account was given to Captain Alexander:

A certain Namaqua was travelling in company with a Bushwoman carrying a child on her back. They had proceeded some distance on their journey when a troop of wild horses appeared, and the man said to the woman: “I am hungry, and as I know you can turn yourself into a lion, do so now, and catch us a wild horse, that we may eat.”

The woman answered, “You'll be afraid.”

“No, no,” said the man; “I am afraid of dying of hunger, but not of you.”

Whilst he was yet speaking, hair began to appear at the back of the woman's neck, her nails began to assume the appearance of claws, and her features altered. She sat down the child.

The man, alarmed at the change, climbed a tree close by, the woman glared at him fearfully, and going to one side she threw off her skin petticoat, when a perfect lion rushed out into the plain; it bounded and crept among the bushes towards the wild horses, and springing on one of them it fell, and the lion lapped its blood. The lion then came back to where the child was crying, and the man called from the tree, “enough! enough! don't hurt me. Put off your lion's shape. I'll never ask to see this again.”

The lion looked at him and growled. “I'll remain here till I die,” said the man, “if you don't become a woman again.” The mane and tail then began to disappear, the lion went towards the bush where the skin petticoat lay; it was slipped on, and the woman in her proper shape took up the child. The man descended, partook of the horse's flesh, but never again asked the woman to catch game for him.

It has been said that the women had to do the hardest of the work and were punished if they declined to perform it, but they occupied that position as a matter of course, and would have despised a man who intruded upon their domain. They did not interfere with him in his use of the assagai, the bow, or the club, they left the chase entirely to him, and so they would have regarded it as improper if he had set about making mats or digging bulbs from the ground. In real fact they—excepting of course such captives as have been described—were more nearly the equals of the men, and were permitted to exercise much greater freedom of speech in domestic disputes, than among most barbarians. They were mistresses within the huts. The stores of milk were under their control, not under that of their husbands, as was the case with the Bantu. The men or their sons tended the cattle, but their daughters milked the cows.

Wherever men greatly preponderate in number over women, the females will enjoy extensive privileges, and if this is the case when a new nation is being formed, the custom
Portrait of the famous Hottentot chief Jan Jonker Afrikaner, in European dress.
(From a Photograph in the South African Public Library.)
regarding those privileges will become fixed. No census having ever been taken of these people in olden times, it is impossible to ascertain what the proportion of the sexes to each other was when Europeans first became acquainted with them; at present where the race is still comparatively pure they are believed to be about equal. Males were never destroyed in large numbers by war, as among the Bantu, so most likely after the formation of the race there was always an approximate equality between the sexes, the captive Bushman girls, who could not have been very numerous at any one time, excepted. There was no loss of human life on charges of dealing in witchcraft, or the Hottentots would have speedily died out, for they were not so prolific as white people, and very much less so than the Bushmen were or the Bantu are now.

Taking these facts into consideration, the probabilities are very great that at the time of the origin of the race the females were few in number compared with the males who entered their country and induced or forced them to become consorts. Savages as those females were, they were yet able under these circumstances to occupy a position of influence in the household, which their descendants of the same sex never lost.

Dr. Theophilus Hahn says of them: All the Khoikhoi tribes use the expression Taras for woman. Taras is the woman, as ruler of the house, the mistress. The root da or ta means to conquer, to rule, to master, and the suffix ra expresses a custom or an intrinsic peculiarity. Taras is also a woman of rank, a lady. In every Khoikhoi's house the woman, or taras, is the supreme ruler; the husband has nothing at all to say. While in public the men take the prominent part, at home they have not so much power even as to take a mouthful of sour milk out of the tub, without the wife's permission. In the house the wife always occupies the right side of the husband and of the house.

If a chief died, it often happened that his energetic wife became the gau-tas (contracted from gau-taras), the ruling woman—i.e. the queen of the tribe—in place of the son who was not of age. All the daughters are called after the father and all the sons after the mother. The eldest daughter was highly respected; to her was entirely left the milking of the cows. This was in accordance with the respect shown to the female sex in general. There is a nice charming little song illustrating this:

“My lioness!
Art thou afraid that I will bewitch thee?
Thou milkest the cow with a fleshy hand (i.e. with a soft hand).
Bite me! (i.e. kiss me!)
Pour for me (milk)!
My lioness,
Great man's daughter.

“The uncle always calls his niece, the brother's or sister's daughter, ‘my lioness.’

“The highest oath a man could take, and still takes, was to swear by his eldest sister. A man can never address his own sister personally; he must speak to another person to address the sister in his name, or in the absence of anybody he says so that his sister can hear, ‘I wish that somebody will tell my sister that I wish to have a drink of milk,’ &c. The eldest sister can even inflict punishment on a grown-up brother if he omits the established traditionary rules of courtesy and the code of etiquette.”

Among some—not all—of the Hottentot clans there was a custom which, though described by many early observers, was regarded by most writers of the nineteenth century without sufficient investigation as so utterly incredible that they did not notice it. Yet it is practised at the present day by people who are certainly not of Hottentot blood, but who must have derived their language as well as many of their customs from Hottentot conquerors in bygone times. It stands to them in the same relation that circumcision does to many Bantu clans, that is, among them a youth cannot enter the society of men or take to himself a wife until he has been made a monorch (μόνορχις). A custom so extraordinary shows what force habit and superstition have among barbarians.

With all their degrading habits, the Hottentots possessed large powers of imagination. They speculated upon objects in nature in a way that no Bantu ever did, and their ideas on these subjects, though seemingly absurd, at least bore evidence of a disposition to think. They had names for many stars and groups of stars, which they believed were endowed with life. They were excellent story-tellers. Seated round fires of an evening, they repeated tales of the doings of men and of animals—usually the baboon or the jackal—which produced boundless mirth. These stories often contained coarse and obscene expressions, or what Europeans would regard as such, but their sense of delicacy in these matters was naturally low. Specimens will be given in the next chapter, and a sufficient number to fill several volumes might still be easily collected, for they have survived the loss of the language in which they were originally told, and have probably not undergone more alterations than were necessary to make them pass current in new surroundings.

The evening with the Hottentots, as probably with all barbarians, was the time for enjoyment. What could be more cheerful than the dance in the bright moonlight or listening to a merry tale by a fire under a starry sky? Then the young men tried their strength in wrestling matches, or in lifting others lying at full length on the ground, while the young women looked on and applauded the successful competitors. Then, too, they played games which, though apparently suited to the capacities of little children only, afforded them much amusement. The commonest of these games, very similar to one practised by the Bushmen, was adopted by the Bantu on the eastern border of the Cape province when they conquered the Hottentots there, and is performed by adults among them to-day, though the people with whom it originated have long since forgotten it.

It was played by two persons or any number exceeding two. The players sat on the ground, and each had a pebble so small that it could easily be concealed in a folded hand. If there were many players they formed themselves into sides or parties, but when they were few in number one played against the rest. This one concealed the pebble in either of his hands, and then threw both arms out against his opponent, at the same time calling out that he met or that he evaded. His opponent threw his arms out in the same manner, so that his right hand was opposite the first player's left, and his left opposite the first player's right. The clenched hands were then opened, and if the pebbles were found to meet, the first player won if he had called out that he met, or lost if he had called out that he evaded. When there were many players, one after another was beaten until only two were left. These two then played against each other, when the one who was beaten was laughed at and the winner was applauded. In playing, the arms were thrown out very quickly, and the words were rapidly uttered, so that a stranger might have fancied there was neither order nor rule observed. Young men and boys often spent whole nights in this childish amusement, which had the same hold upon them as dice upon many Europeans.

Probably, if intellectual enjoyment be excluded, the Hottentots were among the happiest people in existence. They generally lived until old age without serious illness. They did not allow possible future troubles to disturb them, and a sufficiency of food was all that was needed to make them as merry and lighthearted as children at play.

They were capable of adopting the habits of Europeans, though the process required to be so gradual that the training needed two centuries and a half to complete it. They have learned to cultivate the ground, to use the same food as white people, to wear European clothing, and to act as rough handicraftsmen, but there is no instance on record of one of them having ever attained a position that required either much intellectual power or much mechanical skill. They were capable of being drilled into good soldiers, especially into light cavalrymen, and in that capacity they never showed deficiency of courage in the field. For three quarters of a century a regiment of Hottentots was maintained in the Cape Colony, and on many occasions it performed excellent service under its European officers. The only men of this race indeed who ever attained prominence in any way did so through ability as military leaders. Willem Uithaalder, the head of the Hottentot rebels in 1850–53 in the Cape Colony, was admittedly a formidable man to have as an opponent. So was Hendrik Witbooi, who for years conducted war against the Germans in Great Namaqualand. Jan Jonker Afrikaner was another, though not so prominent as those just named, as he fought with Hereros, not with Europeans.

Their fondness for intoxicating liquor has always been an obstacle to their improvement. They are so weak-minded as readily to give way to temptation, and when once a young man or woman has tasted strong drink the power to abstain from it is lost. Brandy has been a perfect curse to them.

Since the Hottentots came in contact with Europeans of a low class and especially with African slaves, however, their blood has been so mixed that except in Great Namaqualand and along the banks of the Vaal and Orange rivers near their junction, very few of pure blood are in existence now, and every successive generation sees the number become smaller.

  1. Dr. Hahn explained this word, not as a proper name, but as applied by Hottentots to the Bushmen because it meant inhabitants or, as we should say, aborigines. The Hottentots often used opprobrious epithets when speaking of the wild people, but commonly called them by this name Sana.
  2. A particular kind of tree in Namaqualand bearing a shrivelled wild fruit, for which Mr. Krönlein could think of no more appropriate name than the raisin-tree. I am unacquainted with it.
  3. This is evidently another version of Heitsi-eibib and ǂGãǂGorib, cast in a more poetical mould.
  4. In the early records of the Cape Colony there are several descriptions of Hottentot dances performed in honour of Europeans who visited their kraals. After the first terrible outbreak of small-pox they ceased to be practised south of the Orange river, but in the secluded district of Great Namaqualand, where the language and ancient customs were preserved inviolate, the dances of various kinds to the music of reeds were performed until the middle of the nineteenth century. Captain Alexander, who explored Great Namaqualand in 1836–7, in An Expedition of Discovery into the Interior of Africa, through the hitherto undescribed countries of the Great Namaquas, Boschmans, and Hill Damaras, performed under the auspices of Her Majesty's Government and the Royal Geographical Society, and conducted by James Edward Alexander, K.L.S., Captain in the British, Lieutenant-Colonel in the Portuguese service, F.R.G.S. and R.A.S., etc. (two demi octavo volumes, published in London in 1838), describes one that he witnessed in the following words:

    “On the 20th February the chief, according to Namaqua custom, presented me with six sheep, and gave me a grand reed dance, as follow:—A dozen men assembled, and with reeds, which, closed at one end, were from one foot long to seven, like the horns, of different sizes, of the Russian horn bands, the music of which I used to hear float like that of a grand piano, over the waters of the Neva. Women and girls also came, and, throwing off their karosses, stood by. One man then blew on his reed, holding it in the left hand, and with the fingers opening and shutting to undulate the sound, while in his right hand, pressed close to his ear, he held a slight stick to clear the reed; the leader blew strongly, his head stooping forwards, and his feet stamping the ground to beat time; the others blew also to accompany their leader; wild music arose, while the musicians circled round, looking inward, stooping and beating time. The music quickened, the women sang, then sprang forward, clapping their hands, and ran round the circle of reed players, giving their bodies various odd twists, and ending by dexterously throwing up the skirt oi their skin half-petticoat behind, previous to falling into their places. Sometimes the women got into the middle, and the men stamped and blew their reeds round them; and thus they continued for two or three hours, with occasional pauses, to favour me with the reed dance, which I had never seen or heard of before.”