Travel Notes in South Africa.
(Read at Meeting of 16th May, 1906.)
The following rough notes record some of the scenes witnessed during the recent visit of the British Association to South Africa, and some of the information obtained from the natives and from British officials in the Native Department of more than one colony.
A Zulu Wedding.
On Friday, the 25th August, in the presence of the Governor of Natal as Supreme Chief, at Henley, near Pietermaritzburg, the marriage of Mhlola (whose name means Prodigy), Hereditary Chief of the Inadi tribe, with one of the girls of the tribe, was celebrated. A large number of members of the Association and other visitors were present. The day was brilliantly fine and warm, but rather windy.The Inadi tribe comprises kraals in the following divisions of the Colony, namely, Umgeni, Lion's River, Umvoti,
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The ceremony took place on a large open field sloping gently down to a stream. Each of the chiefs approached in turn with his procession of tribesmen and women. Most of them were dressed in purely native costume. They carried shields, but instead of assegais they bore tall wands. When they came before the visitors within what was considered respectful distance, they faced them and gave the Royal Salute to the Governor as supreme chief. This consisted of a long whistle and then a roar, and was given not only to the Governor but to the chiefs who were on the field. Umveli, who I think came first, and his people, after saluting, danced their tribal dance and accompanied it with a chant. They then withdrew to a little distance aside, to make way for the procession of Laduma and his people, who went through in their turn the same performance. The chants used were tribal songs. The words of the chant by the Amampumuza tribe were, "We have thrashed all the nations of the world," repeated over and over again. During the dancing, princesses of the tribe and women of high rank, generally far from young, decked out in native finery, passed singly to and fro in front of the ranks of dancers with a peculiar swimming motion, and appeared to egg them on to further efforts and excitement.
Laduma and his people withdrew when Mhlola, the bridegroom, and his procession advanced. They went through the same formalities. The bridegroom then sat down, and the bride's party approached. First her father and a number of men related to him and the bride came to the spot where the bridegroom was seated with his personal attendants, and performed an introductory dance. When they retired, a number of girls, the companions of the bride, came forward and danced in the bridegroom's presence. They were afterwards joined by the marriageable girls of the tribe, and a further dance was performed. Up to that time the bride had not made her appearance. She presently joined the party and danced with them. In a short time, however, she emerged with a companion on the left of the ranks of dancers, two other girls emerging at the same time on the right. All four, moving towards the bridegroom, performed a special dance of their own, and fell back into the ranks of their comrades. The whole body then retired, escorting the bride again to her position before she joined them.
At this point the bridegroom's go-between, probably his brother or uncle, who had conducted the negotiations for the match and arranged the amount of lobola to be paid for the bride, stepped forward and performed various antics or dances, in order to show his pleasure. Thereupon the bride presented him and his companions with an umbrella apiece, at the same time presenting one also to the bridegroom.
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Mhlola sat with his back to us, and his men spread out in long ranks behind him. The bride and her party, men and women, stood in similar fashion lower down the field, facing the chief and his men. The marriage officer (who was a native), advanced towards her and in a loud voice put the usual questions. When asked if she consented of her own free will to be married to Mhlola, she replied: "Ten head of cattle have been given for me." This was no answer. The question was therefore put again. Again she showed a woman's capacity for avoiding a direct reply, while conveying the necessary meaning. "I love him," was all she said. This appearing satisfactory, she advanced and spread a mat before him, praying him to be seated upon it. He complied, and she then put round his neck and his waist bead circlets which she herself had made for him. The presentation of other gifts followed. It is said to be usual for the bride to present the bridegroom with things as civilised as a washing-basin and soap, "in token of her submission to him and her preparedness to attend to his needs." Whether this was done on the occasion in question I do not know, as the crowd around the chief was too great for me to see at the moment. The bride, however, did give a chair to him, as well as to his mother, and, I think, to some other women of his relatives. Her attendants also brought forward trunks full of clothes and other articles of the white man's production, which she likewise distributed to the bridegroom's mother and other kinswomen.
The proceedings up to that point had taken some two or three hours. I was called away from the field, and though I returned for a short time, there was then a sort of pause in the proceedings, and I can report little more from personal observation.
It is usual that the bride's father returns an ox out of the lobola, and sometimes he adds other cattle. These usually stand by in view of the assembly while the bride is making her gifts. The bridegroom and his party then rise, move forward and perform a short dance. The programme with which we were furnished, and which was prepared by the Native Affairs Department, proceeds: "Upon the completion of this preliminary dance, which is done without the usual ornaments, the bridegroom's party retire to dress themselves, in order to return shortly thereafter and perform the real marriage-dance. In the interval the bride is to run away, to be chased and captured by other girls of the bridegroom's party and brought back. This is done in order to ensure the giving of more cattle on account of the bride, and also to elicit the fact as to whether she is cared for or not by the bridegroom's party; because, if she is not cared for, they will not pursue her, and she will be allowed to go home. The bridegroom's party will thereafter come up in full dress, and dance. This dance being completed, announcements will be made as to the position to be filled by the bride, and a stick, adorned at the head with catskin [not, of course, the skin of the domestic cat, but a native animal], will be handed to her as an emblem of her position, and the tribe will be told by some prominent native that the chief has now married the mother of the tribe."I regret that we did not witness these, which were some of the most interesting of the ceremonies; but the day was wearing away and the only trains by which we could get back to Maritzburg were on the point of leaving. A Zulu wedding is
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In this connection I may mention that, two days earlier, we had witnessed at Mount Edgecombe Sugar Estate, near Durban, a native dance. As at Henley, the natives were for the most part in native costume. They came together in bands, each band from its kraal. A war-dance was first performed. It was of a most exciting description, for the men were gradually wrought up into what looked a perfect fury, dancing, leaping, and yelling. Had they had spears, as they would in their natural condition, instead of thin long sticks or wands which they actually carried, it would have required some amount of nerve to witness it unmoved. An interesting feature of the dance was the issuing forth from the ranks of first one and then another bragging, shouting, leaping, and imitating a real attack upon the foe, acting of course what he was boasting he would do. This is a well-known proceeding in Bantu war-dances; and it is not without magical intent. The women of rank also, as at Henley, paraded singly before the bands of dancers and urged them on.
Many of the dancers were labourers on the Sugar Estate, and the owners had provided three oxen for their food on the occasion. They were brought on the field. It was intended to shoot them; but unhappily at the last moment only small shot could be found to load the guns. Two of them were shot with this, but only dazed. They were then seized by the natives, as they staggered about the field, and killed by knifing them in the spinal column at the back of the head. The third ox broke away, and when we left for lunch was being chased about the field, evidently showing sport. We did not see it killed, but it was doubtless slaughtered in the same way. When we returned to the field, fires of branches had been lighted in various spots. The chief was cutting up the carcases and distributing the meat. To cook it, all that was necessary was to lay it on the branches and thus broil it. As a piece got browned on one side, it was turned with two sticks. When it was browned on both sides, though it must have been quite raw within, it was taken off the fire with the aid of these sticks and laid on leaves, to be afterwards consumed. I met a man carrying a big portion of the entrails, which he evidently considered a tit-bit. In the meantime Kaffir beer had been flowing. Dancing was going on no longer by the whole band but in little groups, surrounded by a delighted crowd. Sham fights were being enacted. The fighters were egged on by the crowd, and the fun was growing fast and furious.
Returning to the marriage at Henley, it was understood that the bride's mother was not present, this being forbidden by native custom. The father's presence also is forbidden where the bride is his eldest daughter. The marriage ceremonies vary in detail from tribe to tribe. The description given above is partly from what we actually saw, supplemented from the official programme prepared by the Native Affairs Department; and it exhibits what are stated to be "roughly and generally the customs observed by the native tribes [of Natal] at these weddings."
Many of the native usages are becoming obsolete, as might naturally be anticipated, with the advance of what is called civilisation among the natives. Among such were specially enumerated to us the well-known taboo between the bride and her husband's father, and between the mother-in-law and son-in-law. A striking illustration of the decay of native superstition was displayed as we left the field. We met a native who had a brilliant green imamba snake, evidently freshly killed, wound round his body and over his right shoulder, its head fastened behind his back to its tail with a safety-pin. The green imamba, a poisonous snake, is the form frequently assumed by deceased chiefs; and I can hardly imagine any Kaffir, however eager for a personal decoration, daring in the old days to kill and wear an imamba.
Visit to a Zulu Kraal.
On the 26th August, under the guidance of Mr. H. C. Lugg, of the Native Affairs Office, a party of anthropologists visited the Chief Laduma's kraal. It is in the native location of Swartkop. From Swartkop station, a short distance outside Maritzburg, we walked up the hill. When we got to the top we found ourselves overlooking an amphitheatre of hills, with Laduma's kraal on the hill-side a few yards below us, and on the hills beyond were two other kraals. The kraals, as we saw in passing through the country, and as we were also told, are usually placed near, but not on, the tops of hills. Laduma's kraal, like all other kraals here, had the cattle-enclosure (which is properly the kraal) in the centre, and the huts stood round it. In this case, however, the huts were few in number, and they did not extend beyond the upper half-circle, leaving the lower open. Formerly the circle of huts would have been enclosed with a stout palisade or fence of mimosa against surprises, but since the British pacification the use of the fence has been discontinued as unnecessary. Formerly, too, the kraals consisted of a much larger collection of huts, the chief gathering his tribesmen together for the sake of defence. Now the tribesmen swarm off more readily to other spots under the immediate rule of lesser chiefs; consequently the kraals are reduced in size. Laduma's cattle-kraal was surrounded by a dry wall of rough stones, the lower side of which was partly broken down. The entrance was on the upper side near the chief's hut. Just outside it, on the right, a fire was built, and there were pots and preparations for cooking. The chief was in fact that day entertaining members of his tribe from a distance on two oxen given to him the day before by the Governor.
The first sight that greeted us was that of a mother washing her child. She was seated at the back of one of the huts. Taking a mouthful of water from a calabash, she spirted it over the child, and then rubbed the child with her hands, repeating the operation until she had in this way gone over the whole of its body. The child was then set down in the dust again. Behind another hut women were dressing the elaborate cylindrical structures of hair on one another's heads.
The chief hospitably invited us into his hut. It was approximately circular, the internal measurement being about 22 x 23 feet, bee-hive shaped, being made of a kind of wattle-work thatched with reeds. The doorway, which was towards the cattle-enclosure, was so low that it was necessary to creep in. Within, we found it supported on seven small tree-trunks, barked and smoothed, arranged thus:
Opposite the door is a slightly raised place where the pots, calabashes, baskets, and other household utensils are kept. The floor is plastered with earth from termites' nests, making an excellent smooth surface, and a low ridge of the same encloses the raised place just mentioned. Stores of various kinds, including branches and stalks of millet, were hanging from the wattle-work of the roof. There was just room to stand upright in the highest part of the hut. The chief took his place immediately in front of the pot store, on the right side looking from the doorway. That side is the men's side of the hut; the left side is the women's. A quantity of Kaffir beer stood beside him in a large pot. We sat down, and while we talked (Mr. Lugg interpreting) Laduma's brother skimmed the beer with a calabash-ladle, and poured some of the liquid from which he had thus removed the scum into another pot, and then covered it with an inverted bowl. Presently he ladled some from this second pot into a calabash and handed it to the chief, who drank and handed the calabash back. His brother then drank and passed the calabash round to us. He was sitting at the chief's right, and he passed the calabash round to the right. It happened that some of us, ignorant of the division of the hut between men and women, had seated ourselves on that side, and to us the calabash was first handed. Whether the direction in which the calabash was passed was accidental or according to etiquette I do not know. Kaffir beer is a thick, sour, greyish liquid. It is composed of a mash of millet fermented in water. Considerable quantities would be required to intoxicate. At festivals, however, considerable quantities are provided, and intoxication follows. Neither its taste nor its appearance is particularly inviting at first; but it is said that a liking for it is easily acquired, and that after exercise on a hot day it is very refreshing—that, in fact, in properties as well as in taste, it approaches buttermilk.
When we emerged once more into daylight (for there are no windows in a Kaffir hut) we found the skins of the newly-slaughtered oxen, each cut in two lengthwise and pegged out at full stretch on the ground, near one of the huts. They were being dressed with knives and axes to reduce them to the proper thickness. Other hides of cattle, previously slaughtered, were undergoing a similar process.
The chief and his native visitors occupied the cattle-kraal. The visitors, who had been executing dances while waiting for dinner, now sat down in parties on different sides of it. We watched him cut up and distribute to them the flesh of the oxen. As he cut off and handed over each piece a roar of thanks followed. The orators got up from time to time and harangued in praise of the chief. His white visitors of course could not follow the remarks of these gentlemen, but they saw enough of Laduma, son of Teteleku, son of Nobanda, chief of the Amampumuza, to feel much interest in him. He is a man apparently of about thirty-five years of age, about middle height, and in spite of the loss of sight in one eye, of a pleasing, good-humoured expression. The one clear brown eye which is left to him flashes in response to the thought or the word of the moment; and his courtly bearing and evident tact, made him, as one of the ladies said, "a most fascinating man."
The women do not join the men in their feast. We found them at the back of the huts drinking together, chattering, and laughing. Some of us took photographs. Laduma himself submitted readily to the process, but his ladies objected on the ground, as was explained to us, that "they did not wish anything to be left of them when they were dead."
When Laduma knew that we must go he took us into his hut once more, followed by his wife and some other women. There we sat this time in better order, the white visitors and the men on one side and the native women on the other side. Again we were regaled with Kaffir beer; we expressed our thanks to the chief for his hospitality and our pleasure at the visit, and placed a small present in the hands of the official to be used for the benefit of the chief. As we left the kraal, the chief marshalled his tribesmen, led them out of the enclosure, and, charging round it, halted them before us, made an appropriate speech, and with a ceremonial cheer bade us farewell.While at the kraal I made enquiries on various matters, through Mr. Lugg, from old men of the tribe. The following
To face p. 483.
I was shown the place where the chief or head of the kraal is buried, and where consequently Laduma's father and predecessor was laid. It is just inside the entrance to the cattle-kraal, not exactly under the threshold, but a yard or two inside and on the right of the entrance. The women and all who die of pulmonary diseases are buried outside at the back of the hut in which they died. Other members of the kraal are buried at the back and sides of cattle-kraal, but outside it. Sick persons are not removed from the hut before death, but allowed to die in it. I could not ascertain that any opening was made at the back of the hut to take out the body.
The next day, in going from Maritzburg to Johannesburg, we travelled part of the way with Mr. H. D. Hemsworth, Native Sub-commissioner, Zoutpansberg District, in the Transvaal. He told us that his district chiefly comprised the Shangaans, or Knobneuzen, who belong to the Thonga people. One of their principal clans is that of the Baperi, or Duiker clan. After going through the puberty ceremonies the men of this clan wear duiker-skin aprons.
Among the Shangaans, when twins are born, one of them is put to death. Dead bodies are taken out of the hut by a hole at the back, and buried outside at the back, and the hut is then deserted. Sometimes on a death the whole kraal is removed.
Marriage within the clan is favoured. A chief's "great" wife should be his cousin, his father's brother's daughter, and therefore of the blood royal. When a chief wishes to bespeak such a girl for his great wife, he sends a white ox to her parents. Mr. Hemsworth had, a short time ago, to decide a case in which two men claimed the succession to the chieftainship. One of them was the eldest son of the first wife of the chief deceased, and the other the eldest son of another wife, who, he claimed, was the "great" wife. The case turned on the evidence whether or not the white ox had been sent by the deceased to the wife's parents before the marriage. This determined whether or not she was the "great" wife.
Visit to a Manyika Kraal.
From Umtah, on the 16th September, under the guidance of Mr. H. G. Gouldsbury (Assistant Native Commissioner), we visited a kraal of the Manyika near the Malsetter Road, five or six miles south of Umtali.
The word Manyika means bush-people, country-people. The Manyika are Macharanga, but not pure-bred. They formerly lived in the mountains, but have now been brought down from their fastnesses by the Government, so as to be more under control. I enquired about the organization of the tribe, and was informed that the head or king is called Mambo. This is his title. The present Mambo is named Zimunyu. He is not, however, head of all the Manyika; only of the Gindwi division of the Manyika. I could not learn that he recognized any native superior. Subordinate to him are headmen of what Mr. Gouldsbury called sub-districts. I could not ascertain whether this territorial division exactly corresponded with a division of the tribe. This is a point on which further enquiry should be made. The Mambo Zimunyu has under him seven headmen of sub-districts, whose native title is Ishe, plural Rishe. The present Ishe of the sub-district to which the kraal we were visiting belonged was named Mtanda. Subordinate to the Ishe is the Samsha, or head of the kraal. The Samsha whom we visited was Gutukunuwa.
The native settlement is not built in the regular manner of the Zulu kraal, but in detached groups of huts a few hundred yards apart. It is situated in a beautiful wooded valley, the groups of huts being placed in small clearings.
The huts are of palisades or branches of trees stuck upright in the ground close together, with pointed thatched roofs. The roof overhangs, and is supported in front by posts like a verandah. The walls are plastered with mud (or termites' earth?) inside. The better houses are also plastered outside, and have the overhanging roof with supports all round. At the side of each hut is a small fowls' run with access from the hut. The better houses have the fowls' house plastered outside. The doorway of the hut is, like that of all other Bantu huts, low. It is closed with a door of solid timber, or of reeds. There are no interior props in the hut. The hearth is in the middle of the hut, enclosed with a raised rim of mud or termites' earth, hard and smooth like the floor, about two inches high. On the right side looking from the door is a place where implements, etc. are stored, marked off with a similar rim, forming an arc and joining the side of the hut at its two ends. This rim, we were informed, was used as a pillow. From its centre, a little way towards the centre of the hearth, a branch rim runs, the end of which, conveniently near to the fire, is made into a circle used as a stand for a pot. This figure will make the description clearer.
The women lie in the inner part of the hut beyond the fire; the men on the side of the fire nearer the door. Grain is stored in circular grain-stores, made of wattle-work, plastered with mud and raised from the ground on a scaffold, or frame-work of wood. We saw women building some of these. Others were standing hard by, completed and probably in use.
The women are elaborately scarred over the body and on the face; and many of them wear in the upper lip a labret called imanda. I bought one of these, made of the central whorl of a marine gasteropod shell, probably a conus, ground smooth, about 51 mm. long and 14 mm. in diameter. They are worn standing out straight in front. Both men and women wear a number of brass wire bangles. The Manyika do not circumcise.
MACHARANGA VILLAGE NEAR UMTALI, RHODESIA.
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E. Sidney Hartland.
- See Plate X, which shows the women passing in front of the ranks of men. The chief's hoe-like sceptre or symbol is seen in the centre.
- It should also be mentioned that, in addition to the dances above described, the Village Main Reef Gold Mining Co. were good enough to arrange for a very large native dance by their employees on their ground near Johannesburg. In this dance members of many tribes (notably of Shangaans) took part. A dance by torchlight was also performed later on in Portuguese territory on our way from Umtali to Beira. Both of these were very interesting and picturesque.
- See Callaway, Religious System of the Amazulu, pp. 198, 200, 204, 211.—With regard to the wedding, it will be understood that I have simply attempted to relate what took place at Henley. To point out the variations from the ceremonies at a wedding under more purely native conditions, and to describe the preliminary and subsequent proceedings, are beyond the compass of these notes.
- The floor is cleansed by smearing it with liquid cow-dung and then wiping it. This makes the surface clean and sweet. We saw a woman thus occupied in one of the huts.
- The best kind, I am informed, is of a pink or rather terra-cotta shade; but I am describing what I saw and drank.
- I may note here that Mr. Franklin White of Bulawayo afterwards informed me that it was a common belief in Rhodesia that Kaffir beer was made towards the East Coast by first chewing the millet and spitting it into a gourd, and that when he was in the United States of Columbia, South America, he was told that Chicha was there made in a similar way out of maize. Compare the making of Kava in the South Seas. A friend learned in Bantu customs informs me this is not the way in which "moa" (=pombi) is made in British Central Africa. There is a good description of the process in Barnes' Nyanja Vocabulary, s.v. "Moa."
- He did not wear the chaplet.
- Cf. Callaway, Religions System, p. 140.
- In such a case I believe the usual custom is for the medicine-man to add it to his collection of amulets worn round the neck. I bought a witch-doctor's necklace at Durban which comprised several. It is figured in Plate XV. The dealer from whom I bought it gave me the following certificate:
"374 West Street, Durban, Natal, 22nd August, 1905.
"The witch-doctor's necklace, made of horns etc., belonged to a Zulu well known to myself. He belongs to a tribe near Tugela. This doctor was on a visit to Durban for the purpose of trading, and was wearing this necklace when I purchased it. He was very unwilling to part with it. Some of the pieces of medicine in the necklace the Zulus use for snake-cure.
F. W. Flanders."
- I have had little opportunity for comparing the foregoing extracts from my notes with the information previously collected by travellers, missionaries and others, and scattered in a hundred volumes. Possibly, even probably, there may be little new in them. They are however, a brief record of some of the things seen and heard in a memorable, but all-too-hurried, visit to a land of deep and abiding interest.
I should like to add that the warmest thanks of the anthropologists who had the privilege of being members of the party are due especially to the officials of the Native Departments of the various Colonial Governments, and to Mr. Newton, the Acting Administrator, and the Government officials of Rhodesia, for all their trouble and often for their patience under the fire of cross-examination to which we mercilessly subjected them. Several of these gentlemen have been named above, but we were hardly less indebted to others. One and all were not merely courteous, but tireless; anxious to ascertain what we wanted to know and see, and to gratify us accordingly. Their kindness will not easily be forgotten.
I am indebted to Mr. Henry Balfour for permission to reproduce the photographs of the wedding at Henley, Plates X. to XIV., and to Dr. H. W. Marett Tims those of the Macharanga village and grain store, Plate XVI.