THE NATIVE RACES OF SOUTH AFRICA
GEORGE W. STOW, F.G.S., F.R.G.S.
3. HABITS OF THE BUSHMEN
To a Bushman, his mode of living, as long as he could obtain plenty of food, was in reality no more miserable than that of other savage races. He had no invidious object of comparison to place against his condition. When one feasted, they all partook ; and when one hungered, they all equally suffered. They took no thought for the morrow. With them it was either a feast or a famine. Their power of endurance, as well as that of digestion, was quite wonderful. Yet many instances of longevity are to be found at the present day among those who are still living with the Boers.
Notwithstanding their forbidding appearance, they possessed a number of savage virtues, which showed that they were not so utterly worthless as many have delighted in depicting them. Not the least noteworthy of these was their implicit faithfulness in any trust imposed upon them. We have already noticed their loyalty to their chiefs, their strong attachment to the place of their birth, their hospitality to strangers, their unselfishness in their division of food, their self-sacrifice and devotion in their attempts to rescue their wives and children from a life of bondage which they abhorred, their unflinching bravery, and their love of freedom.
Having thus gained some insight as to what was their true character in their originally undisturbed state, and what they doubtless would have remained under a more just and generous mode of treatment than that which was mercilessly meted out to them, we will now proceed to make some inquiry into such of their more domestic habits as may give us a better view of their inner life, when, devoid of fear from outer enemies, they were isolated among the rocks and plains of their ancestors.
In commencing this portion of our investigation, it may be as well to notice that from the evidence of Kwaba, alias Toby, the language spoken by that division which we may call the Sculptors or kopje-dwellers, from the fact of their selecting a hill or mound as their permanent place of residence, whence they obtained an extensive view of the surrounding country, but which contained no caves or rock shelters, in contradistinction to the Painters, or true cave-dwellers, was so different from that spoken by the latter, that it was not understood by them. Upon this subject he says : " I can speak the Bushman language well," that is, the language of the branch of painters, " but," he continues, " I cannot understand the language of the Bushmen of the Gumaap or Riet river," — who belong to the tribes of sculptors. " Their language is too double."
From this it would appear that this division of the Bushman family has, in all probability, retained the more primitive form of their original language in their southward migration, while with those who moved more to the westward the language had become so modified that when the two streams again met in Central Southern Africa, so long a period had elapsed that they had become unintelligible to one another. This, however, is a question which must be left to some future philologist to decide.
We have already noticed the difference in the habitations of the two main branches of the Bushmen. Those who were the cave-dwellers and painters arrived at a higher degree of artistic talent than any other portion of their race, while their cave dwellings afforded more comfortable shelters from the weather than the fragile structures used by those tribes living on the more open kopjes. The towns, for so the stations of the large tribes might be termed in comparison with the movable dwelling-places of the small nomadic clans of the hunters of the plains, contained from one to two hundred huts.
Two excellent examples of stations of this kind are to be found between Kimberley and Klip Drift or Barkly, on the Vaal, in Griqualand West. The one is on the outlying kopje near what is termed the Half-Way House on the road to Pniel, the other on the kopje immediately behind the Mission Station at Pniel itself. One or two others are to be found in the neighbourhood, but these were evidently the headquarters of this particular tribe. At both places there are a number of chippings, chiefly representations of animals : the head and neck of a giraffe at the Pniel kopje is remarkably fine, both on account of its large size and the correctness of its outline. It was evidently the grand figure of the tribe, and the spot might fitly be named from it — after the fashion of the caves we have mentioned — " the Camp of the Giraffe."
The position of most of the huts which covered the crests of both these hills is marked by a semi-circle of stones with the opening towards the east ; while that which formed the residence of the chief can also be distinguished from the rest, not only because it is larger, but the rocks also around it are very much more ornamented than any in the immediate neighbourhood of the others, while two or three smaller ones are placed close against it, forming probably the sleeping apartments of some of his wives. An open space was left around this, and here it is that the carvings on the rocks are the thickest. Beyond this the huts of his people evidently formed an irregular ring around him ; while detached from the main body, the sites of several smaller groups of huts are still marked on the flanks of the kopje, apparently so placed for the purpose of acting as out-posts, so that the town itself should not be exposed to sudden attack either from the multitude of lions which once swarmed over the plains, or, in later years, from more formidable foes who then invaded the country.
These semicircles of stones show that the diameter of the general huts was about four feet, and of those of the chiefs nearly five. Their framework was formed of a few bent withes, and this again was covered with rush or grass mats. These were most commonly made of rushes laid longitudinally side by side and then sewn neatly and closely together with either a twine made of the back-sinews of an antelope or a kind of cord composed of rushes bruised and closely twisted together. The holes through which the twine or cord was passed were perforated through the body of the rush by means of a bone awl made for the purpose. These huts were more in the shape of magnified Dutch ovens than that of anything else.
The huts used by the men of the plains differed somewhat from those just described. They were not strengthened at the bottom with the row of stones used in the more permanent dwellings. They were taken down in the morning, the mats rolled up, the sticks tied into a bundle, and carried from place to place after the game, and again pitched at night at their fresh halting place. Campbell describes these dwellings as the most primitive of any of the nations he had visited. Moffat, who met some of the fugitive clans after so many of those on the frontier had been destroyed by the colonists, found some who did not possess even this flimsy shelter against the winds and storms.
Their mode of sleeping exhibited their primitive stage of existence, as instead of stretching themselves out like most other races, they coiled themselves up into as small a space as possible. Mr. Jan Wessels, who resided north of the Orange river at the time the country was filled with Bushmen, informed the writer that on visiting any of their caves, it was possible, although all the inhabitants were absent at the time of the visit, to tell the exact number of men, women, and children who lived in it, as each of them made a small round hollow hole, like a nest, into which they individually coiled themselves, each man, woman, and child having his or her own allotted form, to which they retired when they wished to sleep.
In cold, rainy, or snowy weather, they would not make the least attempt to get up or alter their position for a day or two together, but would remain in a state as if of semi-torpor until an amelioration of the inclement weather took place, which apparently revivified them. Then first the men would be seen creeping out, with their never-for-gotten bows and arrows, and after a little time the women and children would make their appearance. Certain connubial rites, and other operations of nature which in more civilised communities decency taught men to reserve for the strictest privacy, were performed openly among them.
The wife constructed for herself a fireplace with three round stones ; she also fashioned, varnished, and baked the few earthenware pots she had to use, manufactured the frail rush mats, under which her family found shelter from the wind and heat of the sun ; she suckled her infants and decked them with care ; in fine weather she was seen going in haste to the fields to gather roots, especially a small round white bulb called uintje (iris edulis), which together with locusts that she gathered and dried in the summer, the chrysalides of the ants which she took from the anthills, constituted with the game taken by her husband their only subsistence. The man generally cooked by himself, and the woman for herself ; but whenever a pot was to be emptied, all the kraal gathered round it and partook of it. Thus they went from hut to hut until there remained nothing more to be consumed.
Sometimes the men, who would be absent hunting on the vast plains the whole of the day, would there eat to their hearts' content of the game they had killed, and only bring food to their wives when they had had their fill. On such occasions, when they returned in the evening with empty hands, they generally put on sulky faces, and pretended to be knocked up or annoyed. The cunning wife, however, soon detected from her husband's appearance that he was not hungry ; besides the woman was always on the watch, and saw the smoke rising on the distant flats when the meat was cooking ; and so she received him very angrily, pulled and threw down the hut in her rage, and would not suffer him to partake of the ants or whatever supper she had madeN. But in their undisturbed state this condition of affairs did not often exist, during that period there was not only an abundance of game, but, as a rule, an abundance of food also; and the spoils of the chase amply rewarded the fatigues of the huntsmen. Then it was, as soon as supper was over, the women with the children and the young men commenced some of their numerous dances, which were continued until deep into the night, when, at length weary, they retired to their little hollow nests lined with grass or straw, in which they coiled themselves to sleep.
Note: Memoir of Miss L. C. Lemue, from Notes of Charles Sirr Orpen.
The vanity of the Bushwomen was just as great as that which, characterises women in all ages and all lands. They evinced with their ostrich eggshell beads and springbok kaross as much desire for decoration and display as any others. Their heads were always uncovered, sometimes even shaven, but a quantity of hair was left and arranged as a tuft on the crown, and always plastered with ochre, fat, and the powder of an aromatic plant called buchu. This they carried in a little skin bag or small pot or box made of the segment of a horn, slung to the waist for ordinary use. They speckled their faces and breasts with red and yellow paint and white clay. The men also indulged in this fashion of painting their bodies, sometimes in zebra-like parallel lines, sometimes the lines were drawn diagonally across their bodies, at others they covered themselves with a series similar to chevronels, and again others employed a combination of these different modes of ornamentation.
Besides painting, the women adorned their foreheads with a narrow band of thread, not very closely plaited, but elegantly covered with rings made from ostrich eggshell ; and in addition to these fillets, bracelets, girdles, and long fibrous aprons, which in some cases hung down from their waists to their feet, were made and ornamented with the same. Their industry was clearly illustrated in the manufacture of these shell beads and rings, upon which an infinite amount of labour, patience, and time must necessarily have been bestowed in their production. Nor did they, besides these, despise any other ornament they could obtain. They further adorned themselves, as do the Orientals, with a lace or cord of threaded ostrich eggshell beads, which passed through the nostril and was tied at the back of the head, thus forming a festoon over either cheek.n Above their ancles and wrists they fastened little oblong bells, made of the skin of the springbok well dried, and which, by means of pebbles enclosed in them, produced a sound very agreeable to their taste.
Note: 1 The Coast-Kafiir and other kindred tribes, and even the Hottentots themselves, do not appear to have ever arrived, before their contact with the European, at that stage of mechanical skill which enabled them to manufacture ornaments of this kind for themselves, in lieu of which they used such natural productions as the brilliant coloured red seeds of the Kaffir-boom and different kinds of sea-shells, especially such as the Nerita, Bulla, and Cowrie.
The men, besides the custom of painting their bodies with various patterns (a custom which necessarily fell into disuse when their invaders commenced breaking up their clans and hunting them from mountain to mountain), wore a small piece of skin for a girdle, a very scanty springbok cloak, frequently cut and ornamented in different patterns, together with sundry anklets, arm-and bracelets, and sometimes necklaces, these ornaments seeming to indicate respective rank.
After their territories had been invaded and much of their game had been destroyed or driven away, they were sometimes reduced to such extremities as to be obliged to cook and eat old skins. Sometimes they were afraid to go into the plains to hunt, on account of their enemies. They had a great dread of being captured or shot by the Koranas or the Dutch, and there were critical times when nothing would induce them to leave their retreats. The very sight of a white face threw them into an agony of fear. Every time M. Arbousset managed to get near them, they raised loud cries, and sought to flee or conceal themselves.
It was at this time, and under these circumstances, that this earnest missionary found some of their huts constructed of branches of trees, and others of another kind among the rocks, with which they might at a distance be readily confounded. All these consisted of three sticks stuck in the ground, and of two small mats, one of which served as a screen behind the stakes, the other as a roof ; and under these poor shelters the unfortunates reposed, huddled pell-mell together. When asked why they did not build better huts like the Basutu, they answered that such huts attached them too much to one spot, that their enemies might burn them all alive in these huts, or kill them in some way before they could get out ; that they would not be able to put them aside during the day to prevent them being seen.
They assured M. Arbousset that, since their country had been invaded, they slept with their feet out of their kaross, that they could more readily spring up and escape in case of an alarm ; that they did not long remain in one place, partly owing to the migration of the game, and partly that no one might know where they were to be found. For this last reason they went in very small companies, without dogs, and with the least noise and bustle possible.
The Bushmen who, through their friendly intercourse with the Leghoya, the first of the Bachoana tribes with whom the aborigines of the Vaal river came in contact, had in the early part of the present century become possessed of small herds of cattle, and were gradually passing from the hunter to the pastoral stage, had long before the time of M. Arbousset's visit in 1836 been reduced to a state of destitution ; and many of them had been wantonly butchered by the marauders who had invaded their country from different quarters.
By this time also an additional calamity had befallen them. The Koranas, finding that they could exchange them for guns, ammunition, and brandy with the old colonists, commenced kidnapping their children ; and a few years after the commencement of this traffic, some of the wandering Boers, following the example of their fathers along the Bushman borders of the Old Colony, made forays upon them for this express purpose, seizing almost all their children, dishonouring them if they were girls, and sometimes making eunuchs of the lads ; and thus it was that the Bushmen became greatly exasperated.
Such however was the attachment of these Bushmen to their native rocks and plains that, young as these captives were, many of them attempted to escape as soon as a favourable opportunity presented itself. They have been known to travel for many days through a wild country infested with beasts of prey, and yet at last have, after escaping many perils, succeeded in discovering the retreat of their friends. Many doubtless wandered into the far wilderness, and were never more heard of.
These unhappy little wretches, after effecting their escape sought the wildest parts of the country to travel through, in order more effectually to avoid detection. When they neared the part of the country where they believed their friends were staying, they commenced making a series of signals in the following manner : selecting a spot where they could see over a considerable extent of country, they would make a little fire on the highest point, and cover it with a small pile of damp grass, just sufficient to form one long slender column of smoke ; as this rose in the air the little wanderers watched intently to see if any answering sign could be detected. Failing to see this, they would again proceed onward, and would again and again repeat the experiment on some other favourable spots, continuing to advance in the intervals until at last they saw another slender column of smoke rising in answer to their own ; then they would speed onward in the direction where the answering signal was given.
Should the Bushmen prove to be strangers, to show that their meeting was a friendly one all those who were armed, and there were few who were not, would during the interview lay their bows and arrows upon the ground. Thus the fugitives proceeded until they were fortunate enough to encounter some of their countrymen who knew their tribe and the position of their country, when they obtained the necessary information which enabled them to direct their footsteps, with greater certainty, in the direction of their home.
A sign of peace or a flag of truce among the Bushmen of the Karoo was displayed by exhibiting a jackal's tail fastened to the end of a stick, which was held aloft in the air and waved repeatedly ; and then, as they approached nearer, their bows and arrows were laid aside in the usual manner.N
Notes: Evidence of David Swanepoel, an old farmer of considerable intelligence, one of those who in the early days used to cross the Orange river for the purpose of hunting, when the entire country was still in the undisturbed possession of the Bushmen.
Fugitive families were, after the dispersion of the tribes, met with all over the country. Campbell in his travels in 1812-13 encountered one of these, consisting of a Bushman, his wife, a younger brother, two daughters, eleven and twelve years of age, and a child of about eighteen months, which the mother still continued to suckle. They were on their way for a supply of water. The man had a bow and quiver full of poisoned arrows. The mother had a stroke of dark blue, like tattooing, from the upper part of her brow to the nose, about half an inch broad, and two similar strokes on her temples.
The man had several cuts on his arms and smaller ones on his temples, and so had the children, which they said was done to cure sickness. The dark colour of these cuts was produced by rubbing ground charcoal into the wounds when they were green. They had part of the entrails of a zebra filled with water, from which they frequently drank, and then filled five ostrich eggshells with water to carry home. The paunch of the 'gnu or wildebeest was frequently used as a water-bottle among the Bushman tribes. The open end or mouth of this was fastened with wildebeest-hair ; when they wished to pour out the water this was loosened sufficiently to allow the required quantity to escape, without being entirely unfastened. A tortoise shell was used as a drinking cup, or the orifice of the watersack itself was introduced into the mouth of the drinker.
Their most convenient water-bottles, however, were undoubtedly the shells of the ostrich egg. A kind of neck was made to them with the black wax employed by the bees to stop the crevices in their hives, and the mouth was closed with a plug. The women could carry a considerable number of these at a time, in a rude kind of net slung across their shoulders ; and the shell bottles, when filled, were packed away in a cool place ready for use.
Some of the Sculptor tribes used to ornament the surface of these shells in a most elaborate manner, covering them over with etchings of various animals, and sometimes even with hunting and other scenes. The delineations stood out boldly from the white ground, from the engraved lines having been blackened with charcoal or some other pigment. Gemsboks, giraffes, gnus, zebras, elands, and various kinds of antelopes, lions, and serpents, men and women, were in many instances engraved upon them with admirable skill.
Unfortunately from the fragile materials of the water-bottles, very few of these works of native talent are now to be met with. Their pots of earthenware were also sometimes ornamented with patterns raised upon the surface when the clay was being fashioned ; but these are now only found in detached fragments, as it appears to have been the universal practice of their enemies, when they took possession of one of their caves, to destroy everything which could remind them of its former owners.
The Bushmen have been frequently charged with gross inhumanity towards their children. We have already seen that it was a virtue among the Bushmen to love one's own father, and that mothers were known to deprive themselves of food that they might give it to their children. We are therefore led to imagine that these instances of cruelty were the exception rather than the general rule. The women seldom had large families. They carried their children in a different manner from that adopted by the Basutu, or Kafar race, among whom they are bound to their mother's backs in the fold of a kaross, while the Bushwomen carry their little ones on the left side, in a lying posture, the child's feet being towards its parent's back, and its head towards her chest, supported in the skin of a springbok.n
Notes: The peculiar way of carrying their children astride on the left hip employed by many of the South African Dutch peasantry has probably been derived from the Bush and Hottentot nurses that they employed in the early days.
Moffat, who from his long contact with other races, seems sometimes to write somewhat severely about Bushmen, states that these people " take no great care of their children, and never correct them except in a fit of rage, when they almost kill them by severe usage. In a quarrel between father and mother, the defeated party wreaks his or her vengeance on the child of the conqueror, which in general loses its life. Tame Hottentots seldom destroy their children except in a fit of passion ; but the Bushmen will kill their children without remorse on various occasions, as when they are ill-shaped, when they are in want of food, when the father of a child has forsaken its mother, or when obliged to flee from the farmers or others, in which case they will strangle them, smother them, cast them away in the desert or bury them alive rather than they should fall into the hands of their hated enemies. There are instances of parents throwing their tender offspring to the hungry lion, who stood roaring before their cavern, refusing to depart till some peace-offering was made to him. In general the children cease to be the objects of a mother's care as soon as they are able to crawl about in the field."
Terrible as this list of charges appears to be, and to which another has been added, viz. that of burying the living infant with the body of its mother, who may have died whilst it was still in its infancy, from the hopelessness of attempting to rear it upon their primitive fare without the aid of maternal care, they were evidently aggravated by the cruelty and wrong which was heaped upon them by those who looked upon themselves as members of a superior race, who so relentlessly seized the last acre of their territory and destroyed their only means of subsistence, until all the horrors of famine dogged the steps of this ill-fated race, and many perished from hunger.
Still in their direst extremity no instance has been recorded that the Bushmen resorted to cannibalism to prolong their lives, in a similar manner to the Bachoana, Basutu, and some of the Kaffir tribes, who threw away their children by scores in their flight from their enemies, and beyond this, as soon as they had found an asylum among the mountains, had recourse to the horrid practice of feeding upon human flesh, devouring not only their children but their wives also, as well as every one else who had the misfortune to fall into their hands.
In addition to what has already been said with regard to their ornaments, it may be added that the men were the great manufacturers of beads. Their most valued ornament was that which passing through the nostril was looped up at the back of the head. As a rule in the earlier days they did not pierce the ears, and it was only after they obtained small copper rings from other tribes that the men did so.
They calculated time by wet and dry seasons and by moons, and the period of the day by the course of the sun. After a time, as they became accustomed to the use of horses, they became expert and fearless horsemen. This was shown in a striking manner in their mode of hunting the quagga, being light-weights they would dash into a herd of quaggas, and when in full career amid the maddened throng single out such victims as they marked for death.
Much has been said by many writers about the evil effects brought upon the native races since their contact with white men, by the introduction of tobacco and ardent spirits ; but, strange as it may appear, all the tribes now found in South Africa were smoking and drinking races ages before they knew of the existence of Europeans.
The Bushmen were almost passionately fond of smoking. Their pipes were made either of wood, reed, stone, or a bone of an antelope. They were generally made in the shape of a tube rather wider at the one end than the other. Joints of the mountain bamboo were also used, as well as bowls of baked clay. Some of them were of rather elaborate construction, and answered the purpose of a rude or rather a primitive hookah ; they were made of a large horn of an eland, a hole was made in this about one-third from the pointed end, into which was inserted a tube about nine inches in length, on the top of which was fitted an elongated clay bowl, from six to eight inches in length, either made of baked clay or cut out of a soft stone. One of the latter, which the writer saw in the hands of a Basutu who had obtained it from an old Bushman cave, was very beautifully and elaborately carved with a pattern in relief.
When these pipes were used, a certain quantity of water was put into the horn, the mouth was applied to the large orifice of the horn, and the smoke, after being drawn through the water, was inhaled quickly three or four times into the lungs, from which it was again thrown off in a violent fit of coughing, the tears at the same time rolling down from the eyes ; this was considered the height of ecstasy to the smoker. This process continued for a little time, when the fumes of the dacha produced a kind of intoxication or delirium, and the devotee commenced to recite or sing with great rapidity and vehemence the praises of himself or his chief during the intervals of smoking and coughing. The Zulus and some of the other tribes use a similar hookah, substituting, however, the horn of an ox or a calabash for the more primitive eland's horn used by the Bushmen.
As it is evident that the hunters were addicted to smoking, and used these pipes generations before they came in contact with the stronger races, it becomes a question whether the latter did not copy the idea from the older inhabitants. "The plant used for smoking was a species of wild hemp, called dacha, which was generally carried in a small skin-bag. Pieces of a narcotic root were also strung like a necklace and worn round the neck ; these were lit at the fire and brought to the nose, so that they snuffed the smoke into their nostrils.
The Kanna-bosch was also dried and powdered, and used both for chewing and smoking. When mixed with dacha it was very intoxicating.
The great happiness of the Bushman was however in his honey harvest, when the combs of the wild bees' nests were dropping with honey. It was then that he brewed his primitive mead, with which a certain root was mixed which rendered the beverage more intoxicating. This root however was kept a profound secret, except to a few chosen members of the ruling family. It was at such seasons that he could pour out the libations in which he delighted, and it was then, before the intrusion of his enemies, that he could eat, drink, and be merry.
But when his enemies came upon him, all this was changed in the evil days which followed ; and because he was the possessor of the land, he was accused of every crime, and as every opportunity was sought by the usurpers to rid themselves of his inconvenient presence, few of his race escaped a tragical end.
Having thus made some inquiry into the character and habits of the Bushmen of South Africa, we shall now take into consideration their means of subsistence. There seems very little reason to doubt that before mankind arrived at the higher grade of a hunter race, before they were able to construct weapons sufficiently effective to secure a supply of animal food for them- selves, the primitive savage must have been compelled to live upon such food as he could procure with his hands alone, with the assistance of such improvised missiles as whatever sticks or stones chance threw into his way.
In such a state he must have existed for an immense number of ages before such an advance was made as to arrive at the perfection of a sling or a bow, during which period he must have subsisted upon what in South Africa has been termed veld host, and which consists of such edible roots, bulbs, and tubers, such plants or wild fruits, insects, and small animals, birds, or reptiles, as can be secured without the aid of any artificial weapon, beyond those afforded by Nature herself. Such then was the condition of life from which the remote ancestors of the Bushmen emerged when they entered into the rank of true huntsmen armed with, what to them must have been a wonderful invention, a bow and arrow. But in becoming hunters (a change which must have come over their race by slow degrees) they still retained their original mode of living, and the veld-kost remained, especially in times of scarcity, one of their mainstays to support existence.
This kind of food may, as we have seen, be divided into two kinds, vegetable and animal. We will therefore enumerate, in the first place, such productions of the former classN as are known to have been utilised by them as articles of food, after which we shall notice those which they obtained from the animal kingdom.
Notes: The writer had hoped, during the time he was engaged upon the geological survey of the Orange Free State, to have obtained a correct and exhaustive list of such things as had been used by the early Free State Bushmen, but although he made strenuous efforts to do so he failed— as owing to some unaccountable reason the Boers who had old Bushmen living on their farms used every means of persuasion to prevent them accompanying him, and the Bushmen across the border declared they dared not cross it on account of their fear of the Boers.
Hunger, writes Moffat, compelled them to feed upon everything edible. Ixias, wild garlic, mesembryanthemums, the core of aloes, the gum of acacias, and several other plants and berries, some of which are extremely unwholesome, constituted their fruits of the field ; while almost every kind of living creature was eagerly devoured, lizards, locusts, and grasshoppers, the poisonous as well as innoxious serpents not excepted, the head of the former being carefully cut off, and then all roasted and eaten together.
The Bushmen of the more wooded portions of the sea-coast were able to obtain a number of additions to their vegetable supplies, which their brethren of the interior could not procure. The bulbs of many Ixias and other plants of the same tribe constituted with ants and locusts the chief food of the Bushmen and Koranas, when they could not procure game or milk. The inside also of the enormous roots of the Testudinaria elephantipes, or elephant's foot, and the soft pithy interior of the stems of the Zamid, the latter being known to the colonists as Hottentot-bread, were extracted, reduced to a pulp, and after being baked in some primitive fashion, served the purpose of a kind of coarse bread or cake. The flowering tops of the Aponogeton distachys, a pretty white-flowered floating plant frequent in pools in many parts of the colony, and sometimes used even by the settlers as a pickle, and asparagus, were cooked by them.n
Notes: The Uyntje, called Monakaladi in Sesutu, is one of their principal means of subsistence ; it is abundant in the Free State, the Interior, and in Basutoland, and in fact this little bulb is found in the whole of South Africa. They eat it any way, either raw, roasted under the ashes, or ground, or rather it is crushed on a stone; when crushed it is dried, in which state it will keep a long time." " The Sekeng-keng in Sesutu is a fat plant that grows on the hills and in very dry places, they also eat it raw. The black tribes use this plant also to improve their snuff, by mixing a little of its ashes with the snuff." — Notes by C. S. Orpen, Memoir on Bushmen, by Miss L. E. Lemue.
The young shoots of several shrubs were also used as articles of food. One of these was said to possess special nourishing properties, viz. the Methyscophyllum glaucum (Mac-Owan), growing on the banks and in the ravines of the Kei. These shoots when chewed have a slightly bitter, yet pleasant flavour, combined with a strong sweet taste of licorice. It is said to contain such life-sustaining powers that during its season the Bushmen were not only able to subsist for a considerable time upon its nourishment alone, but, as they termed it, they became " strong and fat " upon the invigorating diet.
The Bushmen of the North, again, were able to procure supplies from the vegetable kingdom which were denied to those living on the great central plains. To the travellers Chapman and Baines we are indebted for whatever description of them we possess. The first noticed is a tree with heart-shaped leaves called Toa by the Bushmen, Onganga by the Ovambo, and Mapura by the Bachoana. Its wood is used principally by the natives for making wooden vessels, troughs, etc., and combines softness with closeness of grain and durability. All the natives make a strong intoxicating drink out of its fruit, which is very like a lime in appearance, of a pleasant acid taste, thick rind like the lime, and with a large nut inside. The elephants are very fond of it. The trunk of the tree is generally several feet thick and straight for about twenty or thirty feet, when it branches out into a beautiful crown.
The Baobab, Adansonia digitata, is another tree connected with the Bushmen of the interior. Its Bushman name is 'Bo, it is called Moana by the Bachoana and Makololo tribes, and Boana or Boyana by those of the Makalaka and Batonga. Its fruit hangs attached to a strong stem, and has a woody gourd-like capsule, sometimes from ten to twelve, but generally about six inches in length, and from three to four thick. In this capsule numerous kidney-shaped seeds are imbedded between fibrous divisions in a white pulpy acid substance, somewhat resembling cream of tartar in taste. The Bushmen convert the fibrous bark into a kind of matting, which is sometimes used in lieu of a blanket or a kaross. They look as if made of a material like coir. Bags, ropes, etc., are also made of it, but the wood, being soft and spongy, is useless, excepting as tinder when in a state of decay.
In the decayed hollows of the uppermost branches bees build their nests in fancied security from the ravages of the Bushmen, who nevertheless scale its castle-like walls by means of two rows of pegs driven deep into the bark to serve as a ladder.N From the pulp of the fruit a very pleasant and wholesome drink may be made with boiling water, in cases of fever, especially with the addition of a little honey or sugar. The Bushmen made a kind of porridge by boiling it, which was however very acid. The fruit ripens when the leaves have fallen, generally in March and April. The difficulty of throwing them down with sticks and stones ensures a pretty constant supply throughout the winter season. Chapman found in some of these trees large excavations made by the Bushmen, in which ten or twelve men could sleep, with a fire in their midst. In others large caverns were discovered, the resort of numerous owls and bats.
Notes: The writer has seen places where the Bushmen, by a similar method, have climbed the face of a dizzy precipice where even a baboon could not have obtained a footing, to secure the much coveted honey of a bees' nest. The pegs were still in the face of the precipice.
Another fruit of great value to the Bushmen of this part of Africa was a species of Anona, which these people called Bododo. It was found by Chapman, in 1854, in the Kalahari, near the Chobe It is a perennial, thriving in moist sandy places, such as old river-bedsN and hollows. It is from fifteen to eighteen inches high, and grows in beds and clusters. The leaves are oblong, alternate, and one inch apart, their upper sides smooth and glossy, and their lower strongly reticulated. The fruit is divided into sections, each of which encloses a brown seed, in shape like that of the castor-oil plant, but larger. The fruit hangs downward by a short stem, under the leaves. It emits a very sweet odour when ripe, by which it may be easily traced in the field.
Mr. Chapman states that it was the most luscious fruit he ever tasted, and that when ripe it is of a pine-apple colour. In its green state it is used as a vegetable. In favourable seasons the Bushmen gathered large quantities, and became fat upon it, but it is almost too luscious for a white palate. Some seasons, however, it does not bear at all.
The Bushmen of the Kalahari frequently obtained for two or three months together their water supply from the wild water-melon (Cucumis caffer) found so plentifully in the desert at certain seasons. Making a hole in one side of the melon, they pound up its contents, the rind forming a natural mortar, and then drink the water thus obtained.
Notes: The old dry river beds found in the Kalahari region are called Dums by the Bushmen, Omaramba by the Damaras, and Malopo by the Bachoana.
The Bushmen of the 'Gariep, or Great river, make use of a species of Stipelia, which they call 'Guaba. The writer found this growing on the rocky ridges of the great southern bend of this river. It is eaten both by the Bushmen and the Dutch hunters to assuage their thirst. It has a sweetish taste, somewhat approaching licorice, mingled with a permanent bitter which clings to the palate for a long time after it has been eaten. The Bushmen assert that it acts as a tonic, both strengthening them and increasing their powers of endurance.
Besides these things, some of the Bushman tribes collected considerable quantities of grass-seeds, which were pounded, boiled, and eaten like grain. It would appear that the practice of collecting these seeds for winter store was almost universal before the peace of the country was destroyed by the irruption of the stronger races into it. Several of their mortars, hollowed out of the solid rock, and which are worked out in perfect shape and smoothed and finished inside with a care which is surprising when we know that the only chisel at their disposal was a chipped and sharpened piece of lydite, are still found near several of the old caves in the Free State, and which were used in the preparation of this kind of food. It was doubtless the use of grass-seeds as an article of food which induced some of the earlier races of men to attempt its growth to increase the quantity of their winter food, a practice which formed the germ whence by slow degrees and step by step the knowledge of cultivating the soil was gained, and from which the science of agriculture ultimately sprang.
The most abundant supplies of insect food were derived from the innumerable ant-hills found in the country, and in the early days the almost periodical visits of vast swarms of locusts. The arrival of the latter was hailed by the Bushmen as a glorious time of harvest, as they were esteemed excellent and nourishing food. Immense numbers of them were caught, deprived of their legs and wings, dried in the fire, and then either ground with a maalklip, that is a flat stone, or one which has been slightly hollowed in the centre, upon which the dried locusts were reduced to powder by means of a smaller round one worked with both hands, or pounded in one of the mortars which have been described as hollowed out of the solid rock and used in the preparation of grass-seeds.
The finest specimen of one of these mortars which the writer met with, he discovered hollowed out of a large boulder in front of a cave in the Koesberg. It was six inches in diameter and eight in depth, of excellent shape, and perfectly smooth inside. The labour required to have made this with the rude stone implements they possessed must have been immense. Unfortunately the boulder was too large to be removed, and doubtless remains in the same position until the present day.
The locust-powderN was stored in a dry place, in skin sacks, and kept for future use, when it was made into a kind of porridge, and also, when mixed with honey, into a sort of cake, which was said by those who have tasted it to have been far from unpalatable. The nutritious properties of this food were proved by the fact that during the locust season the Bushmen increased in flesh, and became rotund and well-conditioned.
Notes: The method of baking the locusts was by hollowing out and heating beforehand a deserted anthill. They were poured into this primitive oven through a hole at the top, and when sufficiently dried, which was in a short time, were raked out through another at the bottom. — Memoir of Miss L. E. Lemvie, C. S. Orpen's Notes.
The Bushman-rice, as it was termed by the Dutch, or chrysalides of white ants obtained from the ants' nests, was merely gathered in such quantities as sufficed for daily use. This Bushman rice was called 'Kasu by the Bushmen themselves. To obtain a supply, the nest was opened with a digging stick, called 'Kibi. The "eggs" were then taken out and placed upon a small grass mat, made expressly for the purpose, and which was used as a sieve. The " eggs " were then properly sorted, and placed in a small grass basket or skin bag, and the process was continued until a sufficient quantity was obtained. They were then taken to the cave or camp, when they were placed on the fire, on a flat stone with a little fat, and roasted until they were brown, when they were considered fit for use.
Among the reptiles most esteemed as food were the great frog and the iguana, both of which are said by epicures to possess a most delicate and chicken-like flavour. The enormous frog (Pycicephalus adspersus) (Dr. Smith), called the brul-pad, or bellowing toad, from the noise it makes resembling the bellow of a bull, by the Dutch, and matlameto by the Bakuena, is supposed by the natives to fall from the thunder-clouds, on account of their sudden appearance during rain, as frequently when the rain is falling a sudden chorus is raised on all sides, which seems to strengthen the belief. The Bushmen, however, found out that in times of drought it makes a hole at the root of certain bushes. And as it seldom quits its hiding-place, a large variety of spider takes advantage of the hole, and makes its web across the orifice, and thus it is discovered by them.
Savage as they were deemed to be, they had several modes of cooking, viz :— boiling, roasting or broiling, and baking. The last, as we have seen, was sometimes accomplished by the help of a deserted ant-heap. Meat was sometimes prepared in this manner ; but the climax of Bushman cookery was reached in the mode they adopted in preparing the foot of the elephant or hippopotamus, a delicacy supposed to be the portion of their great chiefs. After an elephant or hippopotamus had been killed or captured, the tribe gave itself up to feasting and festivity.
A hole was dug in the ground, in which a large fire was made. When it was thoroughly heated, and the coals and ashes were raked out, the great foot of the animal was placed in the centre, and it was then covered in with the ashes which had been abstracted. In this position it was allowed to remain until the following morning, when, according to the testimony of old hunters, these wild men produced a dish fit for an emperor !
They obtained fire by using fire-sticks. The Bushmen employed several kinds of wood in making them ; one was a small thorny bush abundant in some parts of South Africa, and called Mosukutsoane by the Basutu, another that of the wild fig, and a third that sometimes called Melkbosch by the Dutch, a species of Asclepias, the " wild cotton " of the Settlers. Two small pieces of one or other of these woods were taken ; the one was round, and pointed at one end, the other had been flattened, with a small rounded hollow in the centre of it, into which the pointed end of the former was introduced as in a loose socket, which by being rubbed briskly between the palms of the hands was made to revolve rapidly. In a few seconds, under their skilful manipulation, fire would make its appearance. A small groove was cut from the socket in the lower piece to allow the ignited particles to escape.
Mr. Octavius Bowker, who has frequently in his hunting expeditions been accompanied by some of these wild huntsmen, has assured the writer that he has been perfectly astonished at the readiness and rapidity with which he has seen them obtain fire to cook any game that may have fallen in the chase. On one special occasion, during a halt, one of his Bushmen attendants undertook to broil some steaks for him from an eland that had been shot. His volunteer cook first collected a quantity of dry wildebeest dung, and with a sharp stick dug up a number of grass roots ; these he placed in a small circle, putting the meat in the centre. He produced his fire-sticks, and with a few rapid whirls obtained the necessary fire to set the whole in a blaze, and in a short time produced as savoury a repast as any genuine hunter could desire ; and this, he assured his master, was the method of cooking game adopted by his countrymen.
The Native Races of South Africa
01. Editor's Preface
15. The Koranas
17. The Griquas
24. The Barolong