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K.C.B., G.C.S.L, F.R.S., etc., etc..

Governor of the Cape Colony

AND Her Majesty's High Commissioner for South Africa,

This work is respectfully dedicated, as a token of appreciation of the encouraging interest he has shewn, since his arrival in the country in the ethnological studies of the author.

Geo. W. Stow.



On my arrival in the Cape Colony in 1843, having settled on the extreme border, I was not long in discovering that, although the settlers were in daily contact with races entirely different from their own, no reliable information could be obtained of the manners and customs, much less of the early history of these strange people.

The struggle for existence among the settlers themselves was of too keen and earnest a character to allow of the leisure necessary to carry out such an inquiry systematically, from the constant state of hostility which existed between them, owing to the almost unchecked depredations of the frontier tribes. As was natural, such a condition of affairs fostered a feeling that was altogether antagonistic to the development of that frame of mind which alone can enable us to judge dispassionately and impartially of men whose savage and untutored instincts urged them to plunder the more peaceful and well-disposed colonists, and to glory in the excitement of continuous raids upon the herds of their white neighbours. Thus a state of chronic warfare was entailed upon both parties, with intermittent periods, of greater or less duration, of armed truce.

Under such circumstances, few took sufficient interest in the obnoxious tribes by which they were surrounded to attempt to collect any of the traditionary history connected with them, and the works of those travellers who had visited the country before the war of races had assumed its subsequent proportions and intensity, were at that time unobtainable. The greater number of the missionaries who were then residing among them, and who might have collected many of the traditions which are now lost for ever, considered the past history of a race of savages as a matter of little moment in comparison with making converts to their own special ideas of salvation, and even when any facts regarding their new protégés were recorded by them they in general gave such a biassed and distorted description as to render their evidence so untrustworthy as to be perfectly valueless in carrying out any impartial philosophical or ethnological inquiry

The simple fact that certain tribes were found occupying some given tract of country at the time of the missionary's arrival was of itself, without further question, deemed irrefragable proof that these particular natives must have been its rightful owners from time immemorial. Thus erroneous statements and unfounded claims were not only promulgated, but upheld with a holy fervour a positiveness of assertion, and acrimony of feeling, which were only equalled by the profound ignorance of the disputants with regard to the real state of the case. The white nations were looked upon, and spoken of, as the only intruders into the ancient domains of the "poor natives," and the only race which had trodden under foot, with a remorselessness and cruelty deserving universal execration, the rights of the ill-treated aborigines.

Each of the men of this school confidently asserted that his own special tribe, or the one he had taken under his own special protection, was the true representative of the original possessors of the soil. Such was the spirit in which inquiries were made into tribal history from 1843 to 1853, if such dogmatic assertions can be called inquiry. How then can it be a matter of wonder that so many unfounded theories were circulated, giving rise to a multitude of erroneous opinions, many of which are current at the present day? One fallacious statement backed up another, and they were so often reiterated that they not only gained implicit credence, but, from the character of their promulgators, were considered to carry with them an authority which ought not to be doubted ; and thus, ultimately, the claims of the true aborigines of this portion of the continent were lost sight of entirely.

Image: Hottentot individual

For some years after my arrival in the Colony I was impressed with the idea that the Hottentots were the aboriginal inhabitants of the western, and the Kaffirs of the eastern portion of the country, and that the Bushmen were waifs possessing no particular claims to territory, nor any fixed place of abode. My ideas, however, upon this point underwent a considerable change as my notes accumulated, for as I gained more and more information regarding the native tribes, I became gradually impressed with a firm conviction that the Bushmen alone were the true aborigines of the country, and that all the stronger races, without exception, were mere intruders. Traces of Bushman cave-paintings were still to be found in every direction, and even in localities where for a generation or two no Bushmen had been seen. In the first instance the existence of these primitive artistic productions suggested the idea of gathering materials for a history of the Bushmen, as illustrated by themselves.

Image: Bushmen 1892

In carrying out this design, every additional item of information but tended to establish the fact that they were once thickly spread over the whole country, and that their occupation could also be traced far towards the north, even into the tropics ; and the evidence proved, in as equally conclusive a manner, that there was doubtless a time when they were the sole proprietors of the country. This conclusion brought me face to face with the question of "the Intrusion of the Stronger Races." Such queries as, whence could they have come, and what could have been the order of their arrival, thus presenting themselves, naturally aroused a desire to obtain, if possible, some information upon so interesting a subject. I then commenced collecting data upon this particular point, although I did so with many doubts as to the probability of accomplishing such a task, intending if I succeeded to devote a section of the contemplated work to its consideration.

Although I ultimately, after some years' perseverance, effected my object beyond my most sanguine expectations, nevertheless at the commencement difficulties, even from unexpected quarters, were ever presenting themselves : such as the apathy displayed upon the subject by far the greater number of people appealed to, even of educated men, who from their position were most advantageously situated for gleaning the scattered traditions of the various tribes; the suspicion with which some of the old natives themselves looked upon such inquiries also frequently baffled every effort to obtain reliable evidence from them, as they imagined there must be some ulterior motive in seeking for information with regard to their early movements, having no idea that such a thing could be done from a simple desire of acquiring historical knowledge. On many such occasions, therefore, they feigned profound ignorance and obliviousness, while the younger men of the rising generation, instead of troubling themselves about the ancient traditions of their tribes, seem, as a rule, desirous of forgetting and even obliterating, if possible, the recollection of the antecedents of their savage forefathers.

Under such adverse conditions several years were spent almost profitlessly, in vain attempts to procure the desired data. Still, during this time a sufficient number of glimpses were obtained, which clearly demonstrated the fact that traditions of this migratory movement were to be found among all the tribes of the stronger races. At length more favourable circumstances brought me immediately in contact with a great number of various tribes, or fragments of tribes, when, as the evidence upon the point at issue accumulated, it proved with every addition more convincing and overwhelming.

It was during this period that I became indebted to the zealous co-operation of Mr. CHARLES SIRR ORPEN, of Smithfield, Orange Free State, and much of the success in the ethnological researches I have since carried out has been due to his untiring energy. I received important assistance also from the investigations of Captain Blyth, chief magistrate of the Transkeian Territory, the Rev. H. Moore-Dyke, of Morija, British Basutuland, the Rev. Roger Price, of the Northern Bakuena, the Rev. Richard Giddy, of the Native Reserve, Herschel, and the Rev. F. Maeder, of the Bataung mission, which they readily and heartily entered into at my suggestion.

I have also to thank Miss Lucy C. Lloyd, Judge Buchanan, and Mr. Alfred Barlow for the valuable aid they afforded me in supplying me with works of reference, which under other circumstances it would have been impossible to have obtained so far in the Interior. From among the multitude of native authorities, I am especially beholden to the Basutu chief Mapeli, and Lipatsane, the last chief of the Bakulukwa (a branch of the Baputi), for their vivid word-pictures of numerous stirring episodes in the history of the tribes with which they were acquainted. The descriptive powers of Mapeli are seldom equalled, even among the natives, although many excel in the figurative and poetic style of language which they employ when relating the exploits of their chiefs.

After my investigations had arrived at this stage, the long-desired information almost poured in from every quarter, until the materials upon the early migrations of the races now residing in South Africa attained such proportions that it became necessary to modify the original plan, and arrange them as a distinct work under the present title.

Such then was the origin of "The Races of South Africa" ; but, after all the time expended in collecting the materials, it has necessarily been made up of shreds and patches, so much so that one cannot help being painfully impressed with its many shortcomings and imperfections, and must ever regret that such an attempt was not made some fifty years ago. Since the commencement of the present century how many of the old tribal chroniclers, men who were the great repositories of the traditionary lore of the country, have not been suddenly cut off in the merciless native wars which have intervened.

The few survivors are now old, most of them very old men, widely scattered and hidden in the nooks and corners of the land, and are fast disappearing from the face of the earth ; while the quasi-educated native looks with contempt upon the tribal traditions of his forefathers, and thus as each one of these ancients passes away, so much knowledge with regard to the tribes of South Africa is lost for ever. It is certain that before another quarter of a century has elapsed, the opportunity of rescuing any portion of it from oblivion will have irrevocably glided from our grasp.

Even those native authorities of the present day who profess that they have preserved some portion of the history of their tribes have so mutilated and adulterated the traditions, modifying them to suit the altered conditions of the nation or tribe to which they belong, that the originality and authenticity of these narrations have at length in many instances become so completely obscured or destroyed that they are rendered nearly valueless as affording material whereon to build a reliable and veracious tribal history.

This was seen in a marked manner in gathering materials for the memoirs upon the Frontier Hottentots, Griquas, and Basutu. With regard to the last, the discrepancies between the evidence given by Nehemiah Moshesh, a younger son of Moshesh, in 1880, and that of Mokoniane, a great fighting captain of the Bamokoteri, a clan of the Basutu, to M. Arbousset, in 1834-6, as well as that of Mapeli, a brother of Moshesh, and contemporary of Mokoniane, in 1878 to myself, are striking instances of this fact. The statements of Nehemiah evidently embody all the additions and modifications which have been made to the original tribal history.

This tampering has been clearly intended to show that from the commencement Moshesh had a rightful claim, both by descent and inheritance, to the paramount chieftainship of the Basutu nation, as well as to the territory over which he subsequently attempted to exercise sovereignty ; while, on the other hand, those of Mokoniane and Mapeli give the history of the rise of the clan of Moshesh with a clearness which is unmistakable as to the insignificance and second-rate position of the Bamokoteri at the outset of Moshesh's career, before his ambition led him to lay claim to every inch of country over which his marauding parties had pushed their cattle raids.

Again, their evidence is equally distinct upon the point of the Bamonaheng chiefs being acknowledged as the paramount power at the time when the Bamokoteri were nothing more than a miserable sept occupying a most circumscribed piece of country among the rugged ravines near the sources of the Caledon. The two other narrators spoke of what they had themselves witnessed ; the younger gave the tribal traditions after they had been trimmed up and modified so as to support the more ambitious schemes and ideas of the dynasty of Moshesh.

The knowledge of such facts indicated the necessity of employing considerable caution in collating the evidence thus obtained from witnesses swayed by different interests, and who therefore viewed the occurrences they narrated from different standpoints. To arrive at impartial and trustworthy conclusions has been the consummation I have striven to achieve in the compilation of the present work ; viz. to separate as much as possible the reliable from the fictitious, so that if it does not reveal the whole truth (an accomplishment which is an impossibility, since so much of it has been irrecoverably lost), it may at any rate shed some additional light upon the Races of South Africa, and possibly be the means of rescuing some portion of their traditions from the oblivion which threatens them ; while their diffusion may lead to more correct opinions being entertained with regard to them.


Bloemfontein, Orange Free State,

6th September, 1880.

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