On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi

On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi  (1880) 
by Emil Holub

[Reprinted from the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, August, 1880.]

On the Central South African Tribes from the South
Coast to the Zambesi. By Dr. Emil Holub.

In the following paper I propose to describe some of the results of my ethnological researches during a sojourn both in the colonies and the southern parts of Central Africa.

Of the tribes living between the coast and the Zambesi, I divided these researches into two parts: the first relating to South Africa, and the second to Central Africa. I did not visit either the east or the west coast. When a traveller visits the interior it is only natural that he should make acquaintances among the natives. He must enter their villages and obtain permission from the kings to pass through their countries; he must buy food from the people, and employ them as servants. It has been the custom for every traveller to give some kind of description of the tribes and countries which he visited, but I believe the public generally, as well as scientific men, are, at present, not satisfied with a mere list of names of tribes and countries, and a description of some of their most interesting customs; therefore, in order to obtain some satisfactory information concerning them, it is necessary that a traveller should live for months, or even years, among the natives. He must study their language, to some extent, at least, notice their customs, and see how they deal with one another, with other tribes, and with white men. I thought it would not do for me to go at once into regions between the Vaal, the Limpopo, and the Zambesi, which are not yet in any way civilised ; but that I should first become acquainted with the tribes living among the white men, so that I might afterwards be able to notice the difference between those who enjoy the benefits of civilisation and those who do not, and then draw my own conclusions.

I went to South Africa without any prejudice for or against the natives. I had learned something about them from Dr. Livingstone’s book, but otherwise I was in entire ignorance regarding them. In the Diamond Fields I practised as a medical man, in order to obtain the means for prosecuting my travels and explorations. I saw how the natives behaved as servants, and how the English and Dutch dealt with them. Then I endeavoured to ascertain if there was any connection between those tribes and others further inland. When I visited the interior I entered the villages professionally, and in this way I was successful in gaining the confidence of the natives. I am proud to say that I was thus enabled to observe what many other travellers could not, namely, how the natives appeared in their private lives; in fact, I could see, as it were, behind the curtain. The result was that, certainly against my own will, I have had to upset certain opinions which have been formed about the natives.

I divide my subject into two sections: the first concerns the tribes of whom I found traces, but who are not now in existence; and the second section relates to living tribes. The non-existing tribes I again divide into two branches.

Along the south coast I found traces of tribes which do not now exist there, such as heaps of burnt bones of wild animals, none of domestic animals, and broken shells. These heaps are often 6 feet high, having a circumference of from 40 to 60 feet. When able to dig up some of their implements, we shall, I suppose, find some relationship between those past tribes and the one which still up to the present time exists (living upon fish and mussels) in the rocks and caves of the Portuguese settlement on the west coast of Africa. I conclude, therefore, that those heaps were formed by a race which stood very low indeed, but in order to obtain complete information on the subject, it would be necessary to spend three or four months in investigation and in digging the mounds; I could not then spare the time, but I hope to be able to do so during my next journey.

The second group of non-existing tribes belonged to the regions between the Limpopo and the Zambesi. I found there ruins of locations. It is very well known that two hundred years ago there was an empire in Central Africa, with which the Dutch and Portuguese traders were well acquainted. We also know that there were provinces called Motapa or Monopotapa, but that is all the information we have about them. I am not sure that the ruins I saw belonged to this extinct race, but I believe so; they were generally in the vicinity of mines, especially gold mines.

On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Diagram.jpg
a b, 3 to 5
c d, 8 to 10
e f, 2–3
inches long. h k, a little higher than e f.
a m n b was the inside, towards the interior of the round and eliptical shaped ruinous part.
They were of stone, on the tops of mountains, put together without any cement, but so well fitted together that they have stood for hundreds of years. Some of the ruins were formed of blocks of granite in the shape of large bricks. The tops of small hills were in this way fortified, with openings in the walls. I am not certain that these remains belonged to those who inhabited the Empire of Monopotapa, but I am sure that they belong to no tribe that is at present found in South Africa. I think that some of the stone work was made complete by a wooden fence erected on the top of it. Exploration of these ruins would, I feel confident, be amply rewarded. When I saw them I was too ill with fever to do more than make sketches.

From what I observed of the wars that have been carried on between the different tribes during the last few years, I come to the conclusion that whole tribes have been exterminated in South Africa. When a country is conquered it is the custom to kill all the male population, take the women and children prisoners, and educate the latter as warriors for the victorious tribe, or enslave them. In this way whole tribes have ceased to exist. We know that Livingstone mentions a powerful tribe of the Basutos on the Upper Zambesi, named the Makololo, but if we now visit those parts we find that the only representatives of that tribe are women and children, and one man. The latter was spared because the daughter of the king took a liking to him, but all the other male adults have been killed. These wars cause a great many difficulties to the anthropologist because the races become mixed.

Between the Limpopo and the Zambesi we find ten different tribes mixed with the Zulu race, and a gentleman going among them in order to make anthropological researches would see many things that would astonish him. The men of ten tribes who formerly lived in the vicinity have been killed; and the women and children having been captured, a new Zulu population has been created.

The living tribes I divide according to their language and external appearance into three races—I do not consider that the customs are sufficiently distinctive to enable me to make the division. First, there are the Bushmen; secondly, the Hottentots; and thirdly, the Banthu. I found a link between the Bushmen and the South African Banthu family, and between the Bushmen and the Central African, but not between the Hottentots and the Banthu.

I will speak first of the Bushmen. The Bushmen inhabiting the eastern parts of the colony and a small portion of the Orange Free State belong to the pure race of Bushmen, which had been described before I ever entered South Africa. As is well known, the Bushmen are rapidly dying out. The reason of this is, that their great characteristic is a love of liberty and fondness for living in mountains. They have been accustomed to live among the hills and descend into the valleys to shoot game with poisoned arrows. When the Dutch came into South Africa and killed the game, they thought that the Bushmen would come down and work as servants, but instead of doing so they took refuge in their mountains, and when the game disappeared they shot the cattle of the Dutch settlers. The result was that the Dutch treated them rather severely, shooting them down like dogs. In this way thousands of Bushmen were slain, and not more than about two per cent, of the number existing a hundred years ago are now alive. Even those few Bushmen who at present are working as servants for farmers long to get away to the mountains, and I saw some who had been living for about fifteen years with farmers, but who had run away more than thirty times. I did not notice any evidences of a religion among these Bushmen. I only know that they have a kind of esteem for a certain snake. With regard to their clothing, it is well known that a Bushman, when living in his mountains, uses only a piece of skin, or ostrich egg-shells formed into a small piece of cloth. His houses are caves high up in the crevices of the mountains. They use stone weapons and poisoned arrows, but the bows and arrows are of very simple construction when compared with those in use among the natives of North and South America and Japan. A piece of wood forming a crossbow is connected by a sinew of an animal, and the arrow is poisoned. The arrow-head is generally made of bone and ivory, it is fastened to a thin piece of reed about 1 1/2 feet long, and the poison is obtained from bulbs, euphorbias, etc. They make stone implements of a very simple kind, and they sharpen their arrows on stones. They also have stones with a hole in the centre, through which they put a stick, and with this implement dig out the roots and bulbs which form their principal food. Thus in every way this race, which is dying out, appears very low in the scale of civilisation. But, strange to say, these Bushmen, who are regarded as the lowest types of Africans, in one thing excel all the other South African tribes whose acquaintance I made between the south coast and 10° south latitude. I have in my possession about two hundred sketches on wood and stone and ostrich shells, by various tribes, but everyone who knows anything about drawing must acknowledge that those which were done by Bushmen are superior to any of the others. They draw heads of gazelles, elephants, and hippopotami astonishingly well. They sketch them in their caves and paint them with ochre, or chisel them out in rocks with stone implements, and on the tops of mountains we may see representations of all the animals which have lived in those parts in former times. In many spots where hippopotami are now unknown, I found beautiful sketches of those animals, and in some cases fights between other native races and Bushmen are represented. From what I have said you may imagine that the efforts made to civilise the South African Bushmen have not produced any result commensurate with the trouble that has been taken. Mr. George Stow, the well-known South African geologist, made many valuable discoveries concerning the Bushmen and numerous drawings of their engravings on mountain-tops and painting in caves.

The second race are the well-known Hottentots. The Hottentot race inhabiting the southern parts of South Africa is divided into three tribes: the real Hottentots, the Griquas, and the Korannas. The real Hottentots we find in the western and south-eastern part of the colony. The Griquas inhabit the district near the junction of the Vaal and the Orange River, the so-called province of Griqualand West, and another region between Kaffraria and Basuto land, called No Man’s Land. At present the Hottentots, the Griquas, and half the number of the Korannas are subject to the English Government.

The Korannas, the third Hottentot tribe, live on the Vaal River as subjects of Griqualand West. We also find them on the Central Harts River living in a small independent kingdom, where they are known as the Korannas of Mamusa; their king is the son of Old Mashou (David Taaibosh), and in a north-westerly direction with their chief Shebor, as subjects of the Baralongs, a Betchuana tribe. If we look at this race what can we say of them? If I attempted to enter into details with regard to their religion, government, customs, agriculture, etc., I should occupy the whole evening, even if I confined my remarks to only two tribes. You will therefore excuse me if I only give a brief outline of all the tribes. When I spoke on this subject a few months ago, I had to acknowledge a very sad thing—that these tribes are dying out, but at the present time I hope that it will not be so any more; so with the Griquas and the Korannas. About the Hottentots, however, I cannot give such a good account. Of all the South African tribes the most numerous are those belonging to the Banthu family, but of the whole number, about forty, I know of none who have taken so eagerly to the vices of civilisation as the Hottentot race. The Betchuanas observe some of the virtues of the white man, but unfortunately the Hottentots adopt only his vices. Drunkenness is the chief cause of their dying out. About two years ago I was requested to write a few words on the “native question in South Africa.” I stated that I believed it was absolutely necessary to stop the importation of intoxicating drinks. I suppose the suggestion was at that time regarded as a little too premature, because being a young man, of course I could not have formed a proper opinion; but I am very happy to say that now my friends in Griqualand West have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to have such a law in order to atop the increase of crime amongst those tribes of whom the Korannas were formerly the chief. Among those tribes I did not observe any sign of religion; but they have among themselves a kind of freemasonry. Some of them have on their chest three cuts. When they were asked what was the reason of it they generally refused to answer; but after gaining their confidence they confessed that they belonged to something like a secret society, and they said, “I can go through all the valleys inhabited by Korannas and by Griquas, and wherever I go, when I open my coat and show these three cuts I am sure to be well received.”

The members of the society are initiated in this way. If a Koranna man who possesses cattle wishes to become a member of the society he goes to a member and tells him what he desires. That man gives information to his neighbours, if they are also members of the society, and they assemble in the house of the man who is about to become a member. The candidate has to bring a large number of oxen and sheep, which are slaughtered and eaten. In former times they used to drink their home-made beer, but lately they used brandy. For about four days the festivities are kept up, then the cutting is made upon his chest, and from that time the man is recognised as a member of the family, and may travel wherever he likes, and be taken care of, though perhaps he has only a stick with him.

Notwithstanding that these tribes have been living for hundreds of years among white men, they have obtained no benefit whatever from that circumstance. Nothing more sad could be imagined than one of those Koranna villages, which are generally built upon bare mountain ranges. The form of the huts is shown in the accompanying illustration.[1] They measure 1 1/3 meters high by 3 1/3 meters long.

They make a few holes in the ground, forming a circle, and in those holes they fasten a few sticks—branches of trees, which they do not take any trouble to clear of the knots or anything else. These branches are stuck in the ground, and the points are fastened together, so that the whole affair has the appearance

Plate I.

Seven Years in South Africa, page 420, Koranna homestead near Mamusa.jpg


To face p. 8.

Journ. Anthropolog. Inst., Vol. X., Pl. II.
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Framework of Koranna huts1.jpg
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Framework of Koranna huts2.jpg
View from top
Framework of Koranna Huts 2
Side View
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Entrances to huts1.jpg
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Entrances to huts2.jpg
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Entrances to huts3.jpg
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Entrances to huts4.jpg
3 4 5 6
Entrances to Huts
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Rush mat.jpg
On the Central South African Tribes from the South Coast to the Zambesi, Koranna hut complete.jpg
Koranna Hut complete
Rush Mat

for covering framework.
J.P. & W.R. Emslie, Lith.
as shown in the illustration (Plate II). Then they cover this wood-skeleton with mats made of straw or rushes. They leave a low opening generally from the wind, and the hut is ready. There is no enclosure around it. The huts were made in the same way two hundred years ago.

In the centre of such a hut we find a small place about 2 feet in diameter, excavated like a ditch. In this hole they burn their wood and put their meat into the ash. In that way they prepare their meals. The family is generally clothed in European rags. They sit around, and the paterfamilias has a knife in his hand which he continually pokes into the piece of meat, pulls it out and smells it to see if the meat is “done.” They have not now any remarkable national costume.

Among the Korannas and Hoittentots I gathered only a very few curiosities. It seemed to me as though they had lost their former skill. I am sure they used to make weapons, and pots, and other things, but at the present time they make nothing except pipes. I saw some pipes very well made out of stone. They have learned to make these pipes from the Dutchmen who make them on their farms. These were all the specimens of workmanship, but now that no more brandy is to be introduced among the Korannas I hope that a great change will take place; we may hope it will be extended upon the Griquas and Hottentots. These tribes inhabit parts of South Africa which are very well adapted to the breeding of cattle, and therefore I advised that the villages of the Korannas should be under certain supervision; that a constable should visit them about once a week, and see that they were kept clean, and that the Korannas did their work. The old Korannas appear to be just like children—seduced by everything that glittered and looked nice. Therefore I believe if they were properly led something might be made of them; but the sale of brandy must be stopped. I am sorry that I have but very little to say about the progress which they have made during the last score of years.

To finish our subject, even if in a few outlines only, I am obliged to leave already now the second section and pass over to the third race, which occupies by far the greatest portion of South Africa and belongs to the Banthu family. This race divides itself into many distinct tribes. Some of the tribes speak different dialects from the others, and cannot be understood by them. There is also a great difference in the external appearance of the different tribes; so that it was almost difficult to believe that they belonged to one and the same race. To this Banthu family I consider the Basutos belong, who live on the banks of the Caledon river, also the different tribes of Colonial Kaffirs living in the eastern part of the colony, the Zulus in Zululand proper and between the Limpopo and the Zambesi, the Betchuanas living in the Transvaal and in the centre of South Africa, the Makalakas between the Betchuanas kingdoms and the Matabele, and the Makalahari in the central portion of South Africa in the Kalahar country, and further the Manansa, the tribes north of the Zambesi, etc. Between these we find a tribe called the Masarwas in the northern part of the country towards the Zambesi, and called Barwas in the southern parts of the Betchuana countries, which I consider to be a link between the Bushmen and the Banthu family. The different tribes belonging to this race live partly as subjects to the British Government and the Orange Free State, and partly in independent empires or kingdoms. The Makalahari occupy the lowest position among the Betchuanas, being slaves to them like the Masarwas, Barwas, and Madenassana.

The Betchuanas who live between the Orange River and the Zambesi as our subjects or as belonging to the six independent kingdoms, confess that when they came into those parts they found the Makalahari, Barwas, and Masarwas there. They conquered the Makalahari and made them slaves. These Makalahari have to live in the more western parts, where game is plentiful, and have to kill the game and bring the spoil to their masters, who live in parts where water is more abundant. The Makalahari are the lowest of all the races belonging to the Banthu family. They live generally in small huts made of grass. A few sticks are driven into the ground and are covered with grass. They are employed either as hunters or as herdsmen to look after the cattle of the Betchuanas. By the Betchuanas they are considered as human beings, but not so the Masarwa. If a Makalahari servant behaves well and kills a good many ostriches for his master he is allowed to marry a Betchuana woman, but such a thing is never permitted to the Masarwa. A Masarwa and a Barwa man who is a servant to a Betchuana is not allowed to enter the town of the Betchuana king during the day-time, and has to wait outside, and can only go in after sunset. Among the Makalahari I did not observe any signs of religious ideas, but I noticed that the Masarwas believe in fetishes. They have pieces of bone which they carry about to give them strength, and make them good hunters, or heal them of diseases, etc. The Makalahari are a reddish-brown race, so that they have been called by some travellers Red Kaffirs.

From the Makalahari I turn at once to their masters. The Betchuanas live as British subjects, and not as Batlapins, in Griqualand West, and near the junction of the Harts River, under their chief Jantshe (jantje), and also as British subjects under their chiefs Mora and Gassibone. The most southern of the Betchuana tribes live as subjects to Griqualand West, but they also form a small independent kingdom, ruled over by a king called Mankuruane. Next to these we find a Betchuana tribe called the Barolongs, next to them the Banquaketse, next to them the Bakwena, and next to them the Bamangwato, eastern and western. With regard to their appearance, the Eastern Bamangwato and the four most southerly tribes seem to be most similar, but there is a great difference between the eastern and the western Bamangwato or Batowana. The eastern are brown; the western are quite black. The language which they speak is Betchuana. There are only three dialects, hardly worthy of notice. The Betchuanas employed themselves formerly as hunters and agriculturists, but at present, as no more guns and ammunition are introduced into their country, they are obliged to turn their attention almost entirely to agriculture. I regard the abolition of the sale of guns and ammunition to the natives as the best thing that could have been done, and as a great blessing to those tribes. The Betchuanas are peaceful tribes, but lately, like the Basutos who were also formerly peaceful, they have grown warlike. During the last fifteen years they have become so, until they considered themselves equal to the white men. We have had a very severe dispute with one of these tribes. That would never have happened had they not been possessed of ammunition. This suppression of the supply of guns and ammunition to the natives has improved them in many ways. It improves the social position of the women. We know very well that the little agriculture that has been carried out among the Betchuanas has been done by the women, and the men were accustomed to buy two or three women simply to plant Indian and African corn sufficient to supply their households while they themselves employed their time in killing elephants or ostriches, and selling the tusks and feathers to traders, and lying otherwise idle. With the proceeds of the sale they bought more ammunition or European clothing. Some of them have attempted to imitate our houses, and I was very pleased to see it. Now, although no more ammunition is supplied to them, they cannot leave off using European clothing, and they have to try and gain in a different way the means of buying those things. They are therefore obliged to take to agriculture. Some of the tribes among whom ploughs were introduced became rich. I know one Betchuana tribe, called the Baharutse, from which all the present Betchuana tribes have risen by sub-devidation (banding off) with about eight hundred paterfamilias households, which has two hundred ploughs. When the village grows rich the other tribes see that the men can build small cottages and other necessary things, and they like to imitate them. But among the Betchuanas the men never allow the women to touch their cattle. The ploughs cannot be used except by the help of cattle, and therefore the men have now to do the heavy work. They plant not merely what they need for their households but in order to sell the produce, and I saw loads of Indian corn and wheat coming down to the Diamond Fields to be sold by the Baharutse. If we can turn the Betchuana tribes, of whom the greater part have been hitherto idle hunters, into peaceful agriculturists, I am sure that their example will spread among the other tribes, and it will be a great blessing for South Africa. I remember that during my last stay in the Diamond Fields I paid no less than £3 for a bag of Indian corn weighing 2 cwt, for my horses. In Port Elizabeth such a bag could be had for 5s, coming from America. But if al the tribes imitate the Baharutse and cultivate corn there will be no need to import corn at all into South Africa. I believe that they could even export some, and therefore I took the liberty to advise to make presents of ploughs to a few of the chiefs. I am sure if this were done agriculture would rapidly spread among the natives. We wish to live in peace with these native tribes, but in order to do that they must cease to be hunters and warriors; they must be peaceful.

I have said that of these different tribes the most southern are the Batlapins, Ba and Tlapi, id est, the men of the fish, the people who esteem a fish. When the tribes belonging to the Banthu family are close neighbours to the Hottentots, as such they are generally misled by the latter, and so we find that the Batlapins became very bad in their habits. They were so given to drunkenness that whole families died of hunger, because when a trader arrived there with brandy, they would give him the very last sheep they had got for it. When brandy and similar articles are prohibited, we may-hope that these Batlapins also will change for the better; the more so because these men are living near the Diamond Fields, where they can sell their grain, wood, cattle, reeds for thatching houses, etc., for very good prices. In this way they may greatly profit by the new laws.

To the north of the Batlapins we find the Barolongs, a tribe headed by a man named Montsie or Montsua. A long time ago he prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquors. These people are chiefly engaged in agriculture. In his kingdom I saw some Korannas staying with a chief of the name of Shebor, in the town of Konana. To the north of the Barolongs we find the Banguaketse, who were formerly hunters, but within the last two years they have taken a little more pains with agriculture. In that country we see two more tribes. To the east, near the ruins of the town of Kolobeng, described by Livingstone, we find the Manupi, and to the west the Baharutse, living in Moshaneng, the same tribe as the Baharutse, living in the town of Linokana in the district Marico.

To the north of the Banguaketse we find a tribe of the Bakwena chiefly engaged in hunting, and in their kingdom we find several Betchuana tribes like the Makhosi, Bakhatla, Batloka. About two years ago this tribe had to suffer from famine, and this is another reason why I consider it a very wise measure so stop the supplies of arms to the interior. During the last few years the game have been so exterminated between the Zambesi and the Orange River that really a traveller might go right up to the Zambesi, and unless he was a very good shot and had splendid horses he might starve, although a few years ago game was exceedingly plentiful. It is true that many of the people complained that we did not bring any more ammunition, because the ivory and the ostrich feather trade has decreased to a considerable extent. But if the elephant had continued to be hunted so continuously, all the elephants would sooner or later have been extirpated, and then the whole trade in ivory would have come to a standstill. Now is the time, when the natives have no guns and ammunition, to show them that there is a better use for these animals than killing them. It is better to tame the elephants and breed ostriches, as is done with the latter in the southern part of Africa. When elephants carry our goods, the cost, of transport will be much less than it is at present by bullock wagons, because occasionally a distance of 70 or more miles has to be traversed without water; further, they will turn very useful to traverse countries infested by the Tetse fly. When the crops fail and otherwise there would be a famine, tame elephants or tame ostriches may be turned into ready money; but if they kill the last head of game, where can they take refuge? They will become a burden to other tribes and to their white neighbours.

Farther to the north are the Bamangwato tribes. These are hunters, and to a small extent agriculturists, and under the régime of the present King Khama, they promise to become the foremost of the Betchuana tribes. I never saw a native king do so much to abolish the native customs. He takes the greatest precautions that no brandy shell be brought into his kingdom, and does his best to abolish the old customs that have been existing for many years in the Bamangwato country. He has always proved a good friend to Englishmen, and punishes in a very severe manner any insult to a white man. He has certain rules by which cases are decided. If it is proved that a native has stolen anything from a white man, he orders him to repay double. If, for instance, he steals an ox, he must pay back one extra for having deprived the white man of it for two or three days.

The second Bamangwato tribes differ from these, inasmuch as they are more fishers than agriculturists. They fish especially in the Zooga River and in the Lake N’Game water and its tributaries. Altogether they have more similarity with the tribes living to the north. In the eastern Bamangwato country we have altogether six tribes, the real Bamangwato, and then the Makalakas, as refugees from Matabela land, who have been residing in the town of Shoshong in large numbers. They have behaved badly, having taken both sides in the contest between Sekhomo and his son Khama. Besides these we find the Madenassena, a native tribe with very dark skin. Their language has a similarity to that of the Masarwas, and therefore with that of the Bushmen. Besides the Masarwas, which are a link between the Banthu and the Bushmen, we find a tribe near the Victoria Falls called the Manansa. At present there are only a few villages there, but up to 1837 they formed a large kingdom, which was destroyed by Moselikatse. The Manansa Fig. 1.
are a very peaceful tribe, and are entirely different from the Betchuanas, notwithstanding that they belong to the Banthu

Plate III.

Seven Years in South Africa, page 126, Batlhapings on a journey.jpg


To face page 15.

Plate IV.

Seven Years in South Africa, page 109, Batlhaping boys throwing the knobkerry.jpg


To face page 15.

Plate V.

Seven Years in South Africa, page 268, Barolongs chasing zebras.jpg


To face page 15.

family. In their language and their customs also there is a great difference. The Betchuanas regard their women only as slaves, but since ploughs have been introduced the women have gained more respect, and their work is confined more to the homes. Whites who have lived among them notice that those who have been instructed by missionaries and have been baptized, treat their wives better than they used to; still, I saw many Christian women doing the hardest work. The introduction of ploughs has improved the position of the women among the Betchuanas, as it was always the case among the Manansa. In former times they were splendid agriculturists, and it was their pride to be peaceful. They hated to fight, and they killed their game in traps or holes in the ground. When the Matabele came into their country the Manansas threw their assegais to the ground and said, “We do not want to fight, come into our houses.” The Matabele said, “There is something wrong, they only say this that they may have time to gather more strength”; and that same day they threw the king of the Manansas to the ground, tore open his bowels, and put his heart on his lips, saying, “You are a false man; you have two hearts.” Though the country near the Victoria Falls is very beautiful, we find only a few Manansas. At the present time, when the Matabele come into their land, the Manansas run as far as possible to the west and say, “We are subjects of the Bamangwato,” but when they are pressed by the Bamangwato, they go to the east and say, “We are subjects of the King of the Matabele.” They do this because they do not care to fight. They are looked upon by the other South African tribes with great disdain, as cowards; but I may say that of all the natives that I had with me as servants—Zulus, Hottentots, Betchuanas, Korannas—I never had such useful men as these Manansas. I collected about three hundred words and phrases from their language. So much for the independent Betchuana Empires.

The illustrations represent, scenes from the life of the Betchuana; they are drawings from the book of my wanderings in South Africa. Fig. 1 in text represents a Barolong girl from the vicinity of Morokana, gathering locusts; fig. 2, Batlapin men working a carosse (mantlet made of antelope-skins). Plate III, Batlapin men when travelling; Plate IV, Batlapin boys throwing the Kiri; and Plate V, Barolong men living on the Konana river hunting zebras.

Next to the Manansas we have the Makalakas belonging to the Banthu family, but their language is very different from that of the Betchuanas. These Makalakas were living under several kings, and are the real agriculturists among the natives of South Africa. They were very peaceful, and as agriculturists and cattle breeders really excelled. They were living on the border of a very peaceful kingdom, inhabited by natives called Mashonas. In their workmanship, in their cotton gardens, and in their working of ivory and metals these Mashonas surpass all the other South African tribes. These two peaceful kingdoms bordered one on the other; but from the south there came what I would call a bird of prey, and destroyed for ever the peace and welfare of these tribes. The man who did so was a Zulu, and we know that a Zulu chief named Moselikatze settled down in the district where were residing the peaceful Makalakas. He came there, being beaten by the Dutch; he retired into these parts on the banks of the left-hand tributaries of the Limpopo. When he came there, he had only forty Zulu warriors and some Betchuana slaves left, and a few head of cattle; but at the present time the Fig. 2.
Zulu kingdom of the Matabeli reaches nearly from the Zambesi to the Limpopo, extending nearly four hundred miles from west to east, and is continually growing. When he first arrived he remained for some time in the forest, and then at night set fire to the huts of the natives; the men ran out, and as they did so were killed by the Zulus. The women and children were taken possession of, and the result was that the peaceful Makalakas recognised the Zulus as their masters. Moselikatse’s kingdom increased towards the east and north-west, and he was continually enlarging his power. After I had seen the doings of the Matabele, I took the liberty, when I came down to South Africa, to publish accounts of them, but this was disliked by a few white men who lived in the residence of the king and who did not like my publishing it. Quite recently I heard more on the subject, and will have to deal with this matter more minutely. These Makalakas live in several small tribes under the Matabele. They are still agriculturists, but have only a few heads of goat and sheep, and these men, who were recognised by all the Betchuanas as very good men and neighbours, are now some of the greatest villains in South Africa. There are no greater thieves than they. The Matabele have caused this.

The Matabele are at present a mixed race, and we find some of them dark-brown, some light-brown. In their features they are similar to many other tribes.

To the east of the Matabele is the kingdom of the Mashonas. Notwithstanding that it is a very unhealthy region in South Africa, it abounds with game, and is extremely fertile, rice and cotton being cultivated by the natives themselves, I know gold is to be found there, and I saw pieces of alluvial gold. I would say that there is a great future in store for that land. I endeavoured during my journeys to do all I could to open up the country to trade and commerce, but it was a very difficult thing to do. We know that on the east fever is very prevalent, and round the south is the Tsetse fly. From the Zambesi, trade might be carried on, but the Matabele are spreading in this direction, and would not allow white men to go into the country. The safest way is to go in from the south-east, to cultivate these lands for eight months, and during the fever season return into the Matabele country. The King of the Matabele, however, said that no white man should come in and settle down. He was afraid that the white men would help the Mashonas when they saw the cruelties practised upon them. I used to think that this opening up of trade could only be done by force; but I thought differently after the Zulu War, when I visited Cape Town and had an opportunity of meeting Sir Bartle Frere. He asked my opinion about these tribes, and when we came to talk about the Matabele I took the liberty to mention the following: “My opinion is that this king will now allow white men to come into the Mashona country, and allow them to trade, for two reasons: first, because since the power of the Zulus has been broken, I observed among the natives that the white men had gained much more respect; and secondly, because no more guns are to be supplied to the tribes, so that the king need not be afraid that the Mashonas will fight.” When I came to London and had an interview with a few English gentlemen, I spoke about these matters, and was requested to make mention of them in one of our papers, which I did, reminding the public of the above; and when I was called upon by the Royal Geographical Society to deliver a second lecture, I received information from South Africa that the king of the Matabele had thrown Mashona land open. I hope this will be confirmed and made use of, and that in a short time we shall see great benefits accruing from it.

Besides those tribes of the Banthu family, there are other very numerous tribes living in the Transvaal—the Baralongs, the Bakhatla, and others, most of whom I have already mentioned. Going farther to the south we find in one of the provinces of Cape Colony, on the banks of the Coledon, a tribe called the Basutos, who belong to some of the best tribes of the Banthu family. These Basutos accepted more of the virtues than of the vices of the white men. Moirosi, the rebel chief, had under him a conglomeration of all the dissatisfied elements of the Colonial Kaffirs—run-away servants and others, so that when we speak of the Basutos we must leave Moirosi out of consideration. This is a country where hundreds and thousands of bushels of corn are produced yearly, and we may hope that the other tribes of the Betchuana will follow the example of the Basutos. The Basutos belong to the same tribe as the Makololo, whom Livingstone mentioned as living on the Upper Zambesi. These Makololo came from the south and conquered the tribes, and established a new kingdom. But the Makololo have been exterminated by the Marutse. The accompanying woodcut represents a medical man among the Marutse, who are also a Banthu-tribe. Going lower down we find other tribes belonging to the Banthu family. They are pretty well known as Fingoes, Gaikas and Galekas, Pondos, etc.

Then we have the Zulus. I have mentioned already that there were two Zulu kingdoms—that of Cetewayo and that of La-Bengola. That the Zulus are recognised as the best warriors among the Banthu families is true. All the tribes in the Marutse kingdom are afraid of the Matabele. When I came near to the junction of the Chobe with the Zambesi, the king sent messengers to me, and on their return asked them “Has he servants?” When they answered “Yes,” he said, “Which tribe are they—Matabele or Betchuanas?” They said “They belong to the Manansa tribe,” and then the king said that I might come in. He alluded to Livingstone, who is known there as “Monari,” and that traveller’s memory is still dear to them. I said to the king, “How came you to inquire if my servants belonged to the Zulu tribe or the Betchuanas?” He replied “If you had had Zulus, I would never have allowed you to come into my kingdom.”

The very short time at my disposal has compelled me to give but a rough outline of the whole subject; if I had had more time, I should have been better able to deal with it and to give you a clearer idea of the different tribes. You will therefore excuse me if I have omitted many points which I otherwise might have dealt with.


Mr. Keane took the opportunity of asking Dr. Holub whether he had detected amongst the natives any instances of a tufted growth of hair. Many ethnologists still held that this peculiarity was characteristic of certain Negro and Negroid races, and especially of the Hottentots. An argument for the affinity of the Oceanic and South African dark races had even been based on the assumed reality of the phenomenon. As the point had given rise to much discussion, it would be satisfactory to know whether such an original observer could help towards its definite solution. He would also like to know whether the clicks were in use amongst the Bantu tribes as far north as the Zambesi. These sounds were supposed to be originally peculiar to the Bushman language, whence some of them had passed into the Hottentot and south-eastern Bantu dialects (Zulu and Ama-Khosa); but apparently none of the northern Bantu tribes had adopted them. Touching Dr. Holub’s statement that, though often differing widely in physique, all the Bantu tribes must still be regarded as of one race inasmuch as all spoke varieties of the same language, he thought that this view gave undue importance to the linguistic element. No doubt the Bantu language had spread over the whole Continent from the Equator to the Cape and from the Swaheli Coast to the Ogoway Delta. But this would seem to have been brought about by conquest and other influences rather than by diffusion of a single stock over such a vast area already occupied by Bushmen, Hottentots, and many Negro races. Hence it seemed safe to regard the Bantu rather as a linguistic than a racial family, corresponding somewhat to such collective terms as Aryan or Finno-Tatar elsewhere, terms to which few Anthropologists would now feel inclined to attach any great ethnical value.

Mr. Cornelius Walford believed that famine would be found upon inquiry to have operated largely upon the migration of race in different parts of the globe and in all periods of time. Very extensive migrations resulted from this cause in India in modern times. This law, founded on the force of necessity, he thought had not been heretofore regarded sufficiently either by Ethnologists or Anthropologists: its operation under certain conditions might be more potent than conquests; and more difficult to explain in later times, as regards people who keep no records. Such traditions, however, were likely to be preserved among the people themselves; and the facts might therefore be ascertained by travellers who would keep the point in their minds. He regarded Dr. Holub as the modern Livingstone of African travel, and as he was young, and in robust health, we had a fair right to look forward to much more information of a valuable character from him in due course.

  1. The Institute is indebted to Dr. E. Holub for the presentation of the plates which accompany his Paper. They are from electrotypes of illustrations printed in his valuable work “Seven Years in South Africa,” and have been prepared for the Author by the permission of Messrs. Sampson Low, and Marston, the English publishers of the book.

Harrison and Sons, Printers in Ordinary to Her Majesty. St. Martin’s Lane.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.