THE NATIVE RACES OF SOUTH AFRICA
GEORGE W. STOW, F.G.S., F.R.G.S.
7. MODE OF BURIAL OF THE BUSHMEN — HEAPS OF STONES — SOME OF THEIR BELIEFS
These subjects in Bushman ideas are closely associated the one with the other, thus the heaps of stones are connected with their burials, while their superstition forms the connecting link between these and some of their beliefs.
As a precaution against sickness the Bushmen carried their medicinal rootsN and charms strung on a cord of sinew, and worn as a necklace. Some of the initiated were more skilful in the use of these remedies than any one else, and for this reason were looked upon in the light of medicine-men or doctors. Such individuals generally belonged to the ruling family or its branches, and thus a kind of caste or rank was recognised, among whose members all the secret mysteries of the tribe were jealously preserved.
Notes: The Bushmen certainly are acquainted with a number of very valuable medicinal plants ; some of them are specifics in the cure of several diseases which have frequently baffled the skill of the most eminent medical practitioners ; and it is a matter of astonishment that no effort has been made to discover such important secrets. Thus they were able to effect certain cures in cases of snake-bite, tænia, dysentery, and calculus, besides the rapid removal of gonorrheal affections.
In cases of severe illness, when all their remedies and charms alike proved unsuccessful, they would sometimes seize the dying man and attempt to arouse by roughly shaking him, scolding and reproaching him with his evident intention of leaving them ; but when they saw that their reproaches and remonstrances were as unavailing as their charms and their medicines, they became visibly affected and gave way to their grief, making lamentations over him, and continued doing so for several days.
M. Arbousset, who availed himself of the frequent opportunities he possessed of studying the manners and customs of this people, states that as soon as a man had breathed his last, his relatives rolled him up in his kaross and carried him out, by removing the back of his hut, as it was considered unlucky to take out the dead through the regular door or opening used by the living. His body was placed temporarily in a round hole, he was then blessed and revered by his family, and looked upon as one of their tutelar guardian spirits. " The dead were first anointed with red powder mixed with melted fat, and then they were coarsely embalmed. The friends of the deceased attended the funeral, and laid the body on its side in an oblong pit, where all the friends and relatives assembled to make their lamentations."
His bow and staff were deposited in the grave by his side. His face was placed towards the rising sun, as they believed were they to put his face towards the west, it would make the sun longer in rising the next day. At last they threw into the pit the materials of the hut in which he died and burnt it over him, and the grave was then filled with earth to the level of the ground.
Arbousset says that the Bushman clans with which he was acquainted placed no heaps of stones or monument over the graves, as other native tribes do. It is certain, however, that the greater portion of the Bushmen did so, as well as surrounding the spot with a hedge. "The funeral over," Arbousset continues, "all the inhabitants left the place for a year or two, during which time they never spoke of the deceased but with veneration and with tears." ..." These interments were never so precipitate as among the Kaffir or Bachoana tribes, where unfortunate people have been known to recover from their state of lethargy, and manage to work themselves out of their graves again," appearing once more among their horrified friends as unexpected visitors from another world.
The graves were dug with the 'kibi. It is most probable that the custom of placing stones over the graves of the dead amongst primitive tribes originated from the desire of protecting the bodies of their relatives from the ravages of hyenas and other ravenous beasts. By degrees these heaps were looked upon as associated with the memory of the dead, and as their superstitious ideas became more and more developed, and the belief arose that the shades or spirits of the departed could be either propitiated or offended, it was at last looked upon as an imperative duty to avoid the evil consequences which might follow should it be neglected, for every passer-by to make some addition to the sacred heap, with the assurance that by so doing he secured prosperity to himself and his family. In course of time heaps of stones, the Gilgals of old, were raised, which had a certain phallic significance.
These were altogether unconnected with the burial of the dead, and are still found on the brows of many hills in different parts of South Africa, of which we shall have to speak when treating of the stronger races. Heaps of this description appear to have been instituted after the southern migration of the Bushmen, as they had no traditions concerning them ; therefore from our South African point of view the evidence seems strongly to favour the idea that the primitive heaps of stones were primarily intended merely as a protection to the bodies of those buried beneath them.
The Bushmen, however, had got beyond this stage, and considered that in order to propitiate the favour of their departed friends it was necessary to make an offering to the consecrated heap upon their graves whenever they passed.N Enormous lines of stones were noticed in some parts of the country by some of the old travellers, but these have evidently been the ruins of the stone fences which had been made by some of the ancient hunters, monuments of the numerous tribes which inhabited it at the time of their construction, as well as a testimony of the wonderful energy and industry possessed by a race which has been long deemed one of the lowest of the genus homo.
Notes: A writer of a letter to the Graham's Town Journal, February, 1865, in describing some of the stone heaps, states that two of them are to be found in the vicinity of the missionary institution of Hankey, on the Gamtoos river. " One of these ancient heaps," he continues, "stands a little above the junction of the Zuurbron and Vley Plaats road, in the Zaat Kloof, on the line of road from Hankey to the Zuurveld, via Zuurbron." It consists of a vast heap of stones, few of which are larger than a man's fist, intermixed with fragments of boughs plucked from the surrounding bushes. The other is to be found in the neighbourhood of Hankey, in a narrow gorge of the Klein or Palmiet river. These he attributes incorrectly to Hottentots.
Sparrman in his travels met with heaps which evidently belonged to both classes. He writes : " Heaps of stones were found near the Great Fish river similar to those near Krakeel river. They were from three to four and four and a half feet high, and the bases of them measured six, eight, and ten feet in diameter. They likewise lay ten, twenty, fifty, two hundred paces, and even farther asunder, but constantly between two particular points of the compass, and consequently in right lines, and those always running parallel to each other." He " likewise found these heaps of stones in a considerable number in more open portions of the country," and knew from the account received from the colonists on this subject, that they extended in this manner several days journey from this spot in a northerly direction through uncultivated plains, into the SneeseN Vlakten where they were said to be met with in still greater numbers of parallel lines.
Notes: Cineeze, Cineese, or Chinese, from the appearance of the Bushmen living upon them.
Sparrman attempted to dig into one of these isolated heaps,N but after penetrating about two feet with great labour, he discovered nothing but what appeared to be " some rotten bits of trees and something that seemed to be a piece of bone quite mouldered away."
Notes: The use of these laborious works of the early Bushmen has already been explained, of which Sparrman was evidently ignorant.
From other travellers we obtain more definite information upon this interesting subject ; thus Borcherds found near the drift which he crossed in the upper portion of the 'Gariep, on the right bank, a grave of a Bushman captain or chief, which consisted of a large cairn of stones and branches of trees ; and every " Bushman on passing the pile was in the habit of adding a stone to the heap, as a mark of respect for the deceased." Thompson says : " In the Hantam there is a narrow defile between two mountains, called Moordenaar's Poort (or the Murderer's Pass) on account of several colonists having been killed there by Bushmen. Near the same spot were six large piles of stones, or cairns, which had been raised, so his guide asserted, to commemorate a bloody conflict between two tribes of either. Hottentots or Bushmen, before Europeans intruded into the country."
From the foregoing evidence both with regard to their mode of burial and the veneration paid by some of the tribes to the dead, and the heaps of stones placed upon their graves and sacred to their memory, we are assured that the Bushmen had some vague belief in a future state of existence. This becomes a certainty when we inquire into some of their beliefs.
The custom of cutting off the first joint of the little finger was almost universal amongst the Bushman tribes.N
Notes: A similar custom was prevalent among the old Tambukis, but we shall find when we inquire into their history that there is every reason to believe they derived it from their intimacy with the Bushmen.
The operation was performed with a sharp stone, and they believed that by this act of self-mutilation they secured to themselves a long continued career of feasting after death. The 'Gariepean Bushmen have the following myth upon the subject :N one of them stated that not only his own tribe, but many others also, believed that at some undefined spot on the banks of the Gariep,N2 or Great river, there is a place called 'Too'ga, to which after death they all will go ; and that to ensure a safe journey thither they cut off the first joint of the little finger of the left, or right hand, one tribe adopting the one fashion, another the other. This they consider is a guarantee that they will be able to arrive there without difficulty, and that upon their arrival they will be feasted with locusts and honey, whilst those who have neglected this rite will have to travel there upon their heads, beset the entire distance with all kinds of imaginary obstacles and difficulties ; and even after all their labour on arriving at the desired destination they will have nothing given to them but flies to live upon.
Notes 1: ' Obtained from an old Bushman near Fraserburg by Mr. Turner, Junior, of Draai Hoek, Vaal River.
Notes 2: ' Some of the Bushmen believe there is a deep mystery hanging over that portion of the river called the Falls.
Another belief of these Bushmen was somewhat similar to that of 'Qing of the Maluti tribes. They imagined that in the beginning of time all the animals, as well as the Bushmen themselves, were endowed with the attributes of men and the faculty of speech, and that at that time there existed a vicious and quarrelsome being named 'Hoc-'hi'gan, who was always quarrelling with every animal he came near, and trying on that account to injure it. He at length disappeared, but they state that none of their race was ever able to discover what became of him, nor is there any tradition to tell when or where he went. But upon his disappearance he committed, as a parting gift, a deed of vengeance ; for immediately afterwards all the animals forsook the abodes of men, ,and were changed into their present condition, while the Bushmen alone retained the faculties of human beings and the power of speech.
When these Bushmen were asked how they knew this, they replied, "It is what they had learnt from their fathers, and it is what their fathers' great-great-grandfathers had told them."
Some of the tribes living in the regions around the lower portion of the Gariep have another version of a primitive state of friendship between Bushmen and the lower animals, and their subsequent dispersion.N According to this myth their remote forefathers came out of a hole in the ground, at the roots of an enormous tree, which covered a wide extent of country. Immediately afterwards all kinds of animals came swarming out after them, some kinds by twos and threes and fours ; others in great herds and flocks ; and they crushed, and jostled, and pushed each other in their hurry, as if they could not get out fast enough ; and they ever came out swarming thicker and thicker, and at last they came flocking out of the branches as well as the roots. But when the sun went down, fresh ones ceased making their appearance. The animals were endowed with the gift of speech, and remained quietly located under and around the big tree.
Notes: Communicated to the writer by Mr. William Coates Palgrave, Special Commissioner to the Tribes on the West Coast, and obtained by him many years ago, in one of his first visits to that part of the country.
As the night came on, the men, who were still sitting at the foot of the tree, were told that during that night, until the sun rose again, they must not make a fire. Thus they remained for many hours, with all the animals sleeping peacefully around them. And the night grew not only very dark, but cold, and the cold went on increasing until it became bitterly cold, and then cold almost beyond endurance ; and the men at last, not being able to withstand the extreme severity any longer, in spite of the warning that had been given to them, attempted, and at last succeeded in making a fire. As soon as the flames began to shoot up, the startled animals sprang to their feet in terror, and rushed off panic-stricken to the mountains and the plains, losing in their fright all powers of speech, and fleeing ever afterwards from the presence of man. Only a very few animals remained with the fire-makers, and these the men domesticated and kept about them for their service ; but the great family of animals was broken up, and could never again be reunited.
Dr. Bleek statesN that among the Western Bushmen the most prominent object in their mythological tales is 'Kaggen, whose mundane representative is the Mantis, and that this Mantis ('Cagn — ‘Kaggen), according to the myths of his Bushmen informants, was very far from being represented as a beneficent being, but on the contrary is a fellow full of tricks, getting into scrapes, and even doing purely mischievous things, so that in fact it was no wonder that his name has sometimes been translated by that of the devil. 'Kaggen's wife's name was 'Hunntu or 'Hunu, the hyrax ; and he had an adopted daughter Xo, the porcupine, who married ‘Kwammanga, by whom 'Xo had a son called Ni, the ichneumon, who was the constant adviser and admonisher of his grandfather ‘Kaggen, the mantis.
Notes: Remarks by Dr. Bleek on a " Glimpse into the Mythology of the Maluti Bushmen," by J. M. Orpen.
The Bushmen of the east — that is, of the conquered territory, Orange Free State, Basutuland, and the Malutis — declare that there were at one time a number of animals living in the country in the days of their forefathers, which are now extinct and nowhere to be found in Southern Africa. Some of these are described as great monstrous brutes, exceeding the elephant or hippopotamus in bulk, others enormous serpents, such as are neither seen nor heard of in these degenerate days. Upon this point 'Kou'ke stated, upon looking at the copy of a picture of a great black reptile of this description, taken from the cave of the Great Black Serpent and the Elephant, in Rockwood glen. Orange River, that this was an enormous brute which was found in the very early days in the country, and that they were so large and powerful that they would attack and crush to death a full grown hartebeest. She described it as more than twenty, or nearly thirty feet in length.
The horned serpent of the Brakfontein cave, Koesberg, she pronounced to be the 'Koo-be-eng, a monstrous creature of equal size with the former, that lived in the water, and sometimes lurked near its edge in the reeds.
The great animal which was the distinctive symbol of Klein Aasvogel Kop cave, Lower Caledon, a second representation of which was found in a rock-shelter many miles distant, at Miaputte, on the banks of the 'Nu-Gariep or Upper Orange, near where the river disengages itself from the gorges of the Malutis, she called the ' Kou-teign- Koo-rou, which she explained as meaning ' the Master of the Water.' This she stated was an animal of enormous size, that lived in the country in ancient times. The Bushmen of the olden days used to hunt them ; but they have long, long ago disappeared. It was far larger and more formidable than the hippopotamus, and lived always in or near the great waters and rivers, amongst swamps and reeds. The Bushmen captured it by making a very strong enclosure with reeds and poles, so strongly interwoven and bound together that it could not break through. This fence was also masked with reeds. When they succeeded in getting one of these brutes within the toils, as soon as the monster found he was entrapped his fury appeared to know no bounds ; he made desperate attempts to free himself, and lashed the water about, in the impotence of his rage, until he raised such clouds of spray around him that the rainbow appeared upon them, as if crowning him. Hence his name, and this circumstance the Bushman artists attempted to depict in their paintings. But even after thus imprisoning him, it frequently happened that three or four Bushmen would be sacrificed to his uncontrollable fierceness before he was finally conquered and killed. He generally seized them by the middle of the back, crushed them with a single crunch of his teeth, and then pounded them to a shapeless mass beneath his feet. These and others she declared were animals that once lived in the land in the days of her father's fathers, but they had long since disappeared.
With regard to their religious beliefs, M. Arbousset informs us that the Bushmen of the mountains believed in an unknown being they called 'Kaang, or the chief, or great chief. He is to be addressed in times of famine, or before going to war, and when performing the dance of the Mo'koma. All the beasts of the field have their marks which he has given them, for example this eland obtained from him only a stump of a tail, that a folded ear, this other a pierced ear. 'Kaang causes to live and causes to die ; he gives or refuses rain, when there is a deficiency of game they say, 'Kaang 'ta-kago go si- ho 'kaa 'kuaing," 'Kaang refuses them beasts.
Dr. Bleek, as we have seen, identifies 'Kaggen ('Kaang) with the Mantis. These Bushmen appear to apply the same word to the caddisworm as to the mantis, to which the name of N'go vide !Xo of Dr. Bleek) is also given. The N'go, or caddisworm, which is frequently met with at certain seasons in some parts of the Free State, constructs a case for itself with pieces of straw, and it was probably its peculiar appearance, as well as that of the mantis, which first attracted the superstitious attention of the Bushmen towards these remarkable insects, which were subsequently held in high veneration by some of them. The Bachoana consider the N'go to be very poisonous, and are afraid of them should they meet them among the grass when the cattle are grazing. The Bushmen of the East addressed them as an outward representation of 'Kaang.
When asked by M. Arbousset whether they did not pray to their deceased fathers, like other tribes of the land, the Bushman addressed answered, No ! to which he added that his father had taught him otherwise, and had solemnly said before dying, " My son, when thou goest to the chase, seek with care for the N'go, and ask food from him for thyself and children. Mark after thy prayer if he moves his head, describing an elbow, which signifies that he has heard thee graciously, and that very evening thou wilt bring to thy mouth a portion of game, which thou shalt hold fast between thy teeth, and shalt cut it with thy knife, and with thine arm bent describing an elbow like our N'go."
The words of the petition to be offered to this emblem of 'Kaang were :
" 'Kaang 'ta ha a ntanga e ?
'Kaang is it that thou dost not like me ?
'Kaang 'ta 'gnu a 'kua a s'e'ge.
'Kaang lead me to a male gnu.
I’tangaN i 'kogu 'koba hu ;
I like much to have my belly filled ;
I'konte, i'kage, itanga 'kobu koba hu ;
My oldest son, my oldest daughter, like much to have their bellies filled ;
'Kaang 'ta, 'gnu a 'kua a s'e'gi.
'Kaang bring me a male gnu under my shafts."
Notes: From this several Kaffir words appear to be introduced into the old Seroa language, thus itanga (Bushman) I love ; — uku tanda, — itanda (Kaffir).
'Qing, when questioned by Mr. J. Orpen, with regard to 'Kaang, replied, " Cagn made all things, and we pray to him."
Being asked whether he was good or malicious, he answered, “At first he was very good and nice, but he got spoilt through fighting so many things." When questioned as to the manner in which Bushmen prayed to him, he responded in a low imploring tone " O Cagn ! O Cagn ! are we not your children ? Do you not see our hunger ? Give us food ! " and he gives us both our hands full." When an inquiry was made whether he could tell where 'Kaang was, he said, "We don't know, but the elands do. Have you not hunted and heard his cry, when the elands suddenly started and ran to his call ? Where he is, elands are in droves like cattle." Having stated that 'Kaang was the first being, and that his wife's name was Coti, he was asked where Coti came from, when he replied, " I don't know, perhaps from those who brought the sun ; but," he added, " you are now asking secrets that are not spoken of," secrets with which he asserted he was not acquainted, and which were only known to the initiated men of that particular dance.
'Kwaha stated to Mr. Charles Sirr OrpenN that the Bushman name for the Superior Being was T'koo — vide 'Tikoe and T'koe, the Bushman's " strong hand," or round stone of the 'Kibi or digging stick — and that his ('Kwaha's) father used to say that when they killed game they were not to waste the flesh, or T'koo might not favour them again by giving them any more. They considered T'koo was good for all. There was also a wicked spirit T'ang (? 'Kaang), but although they called T'koo the father, they did not like to speak of T'ang.
Notes: 'Kwaha had been staying for a long time at the Bethulie Mission Station, under missionary instruction.
We have now in our study of the Bushmen attempted to obtain some insight, imperfect however as it must necessarily be, of the probable lines along which the tribes first penetrated into South Africa. We have discovered that they were divided into two great branches, each of which possessed artistic talents of a distinct order ; and that they had been so long separated that, although they still retained certain myths which seemed to indicate from their great similitude a common origin, the language of each of the two branches had, in the interim, become so modified that when some of the advanced clans again came in contact, they were not able to understand one another, or as 'Kwaha, who belonged to the painter tribes, said, he could not understand those of the 'Gumaap or 'Gij-Gariep, who were of the sculptor branch, as " their language was too double," that is, in all probability, it had retained a greater number of primitive clicks, and therefore more of its primitive character than the other. The painter tribes came earlier in contact with the races that followed upon the Bushman's trail.
We have learnt also something of their government, their character and domestic habits, their means of subsistence, their weapons and modes of hunting. We have passed under view what is known of their marriage rites, their games, music and musical instruments, and we have not only made the interesting discovery that their artistic talents far surpassed those of all other South African races, but that they had made greater advances in primitive music than any of the intruding tribes ; they had invented a greater variety of musical instruments, and there was a greater compass and variation in the refrains which accompanied their dances. We have, however, nothing in the Bushman language, as far as our own inquiries have carried us, which can compete with the energetic compositions found in some of the Kaffir or Basutu war-songs.N
Notes: The only fragment of a Bushman poem which has been preserved belonging to the eastern tribes is that given by M. Arbousset (Voyage d'Exploration, p. 249), and by a strange freak it is in Sesuto, and not Seroa. But as it is unique as a specimen, we repeat it here :
" Raselepe u tlula yuale-ka puri
Raselepe (i.e. the father of Selepe) bounded like a kid ;
U tlula yuale-ka pokoa "
He bounded like the kid of a goat."
The rest is lost.
When we come to study the nature of some of their dances, their funeral rites, and some of their leading myths, we find that they possessed a traditionary belief that at some remote period the connexion between man and the lower animals was much closer and far more intimate than at present, that they paid a certain amount of homage to some mysterious and powerful being, who was by turns generous or vindictive, that they reverenced the memory of their departed friends and sought to propitiate their manes by adding to the sacred heaps which covered their graves, that they believed in a future state of existence wherein Bushmen would be punished or rewarded according as they performed or neglected certain rites while upon earth, and that they preserved among their tribes certain mysteries and mystic rites which were revealed to none but a privileged class called the initiated, who alone were allowed to join in certain dances whose hidden meaning was jealously withheld from those who were uninitiated, or the profane vulgar among them.
Unfortunately whole tribes have been annihilated by the stronger races which seized their hunting grounds, and the wise men of their race perished with them, thus the knowledge and the key of many of these mysteries, which could they have been rescued from oblivion might have explained to us the first stages of the development of more elaborate systems of religious mysticism, have perished also ; and we are only able to attempt to grope our way in a very unsatisfactory manner through the gloom, the fragmentary ruins, and the few scattered and obscure traditions that have survived the desolation of past ages.
Having thus far endeavoured to obtain a knowledge of the Bushman race, taken in its entirety, we will now strive to gather as much of the history as may have been preserved of the various groups of tribes which once inhabited different portions of the country.
The Native Races of South Africa
01. Editor's Preface
15. The Koranas
17. The Griquas
24. The Barolong