THE NATIVE RACES OF SOUTH AFRICA
GEORGE W. STOW, F.G.S., F.R.G.S.
14. THE TRIBES OF THE WEST COAST
It is quite evident that when the Hottentot race commenced its southern migration along the western coast about the end of the fourteenth century, the tribes did not move onward in a dense body, but, as in every other native migration we have been able to trace, one tribe or group of clans followed the other in a straggling, scattered manner, some lingering in the rear while others were pushing on in front like the advanced guard of the main body ; and we find from the report of the voyage of the Bode in 1677 that some of these loiterers were still to be found as far to the north as 12° 47' lat. S.
We will on the present occasion only consider those tribes which are now found along the west coast, viz. (a) the Namaqua, (b) the Berg Damaras, (c) the Ovaherero or Damaras, and (d) the Ovambo.
This tribe of Hottentots was at one time found much farther to the southward than at present, as in the first days of the Dutch settlement they were the neighbours of the Grigriqua and Cochoqua. The latter people informed the Commander Van Riebeek that they were Hottentots like themselves, dressed in skins, living in mat huts, and subsisting on cattle. They were described as being men of tall stature, they were armed with bows and assagais, and their breasts were protected by a large piece of dry hide like a gorget or breastplate, which neither assagai nor arrow could penetrate. They also used shields in war, and thus in defensive armour had made a considerable advance upon the more primitive mode of fighting still retained by the Cape tribes. They were at that time advancing towards the south, but such was the number of their flocks and herds that they could, although divided into four camps, migrate but slowly.
Their near approach gave rise to a succession of disputes and skirmishes between themselves and the Cochoqua. After this they appear again to have fallen back, for in 1659 a bartering party of the Dutch advanced as far as the lower Oliphant's river, when they heard of the Namaqiia living seven or eight days' journey north of where they then were. In 1661 Van Meerhof visited them. The foremost of them he met near the site of the present town of Clanwilliam, the greater part of the remainder were then located around the Khamiesbergen. He described them, after seeing tribes of smaller made Hottentots near the Cape, as half giants. Their chief Akembi treated both him and his party very kindly, and Van Meerhof succeeded in negotiating a peace between them and the Cochoqua. This was done from no particular love for the natives, but in order to facilitate their own trade.
The lucrative character of this bartering may be surmised, and the anxiety of the Dutch to extend it will be understood when we learn that in the early days of this traffic a bottle of brandy worth sixpence was considered the fair value of an ox in their exchanges with the natives. All the Dutch sought for in those days was the cattle of the natives, with which the latter, who had but few wants and loved their herds, were frequently very reluctant to part. Whatever expeditions were undertaken into the interior were to carry out this one object, and none other. The same one-sided way of bartering appears to have continued until 1685, when the Governor, Van der Stel, visited the Namaqua clans himself, hoping in his progress to discover gold or silver, and to reach Vigiti Magna. But he failed to attain either of these objects. He displayed such an amount of overbearing cruelty towards the victimised Namaqua that they rose in self-defence, and he was forced to make a somewhat hasty retreat.
This uncalled for ill-treatment laid the foundation of future troubles, and in 1689 the Namaqua came down frequently with hostile intentions as far as the Berg and Twenty-four rivers. No other inhabitants were then found in the wide extent of country between the grazing grounds of the Cape tribes and the Great river except these Namaqua hordes and the groups of Bushmen who were its original proprietors. Even as late as 1797, when the boundary of the Colony extended as far as the Onder Bokkeveld, Barrow found that the wild and almost unknown country beyond was inhabited by Bushmen alone, showing that the Hottentots in their southern migrations always kept within a certain zone, extending parallel with the coast line. In travelling through the country beyond this, a strong escort was required as a protection against the irate savages.
In 1797 the Namaqua were found to be possessed only of flocks of sheep and goats, their great herds of cattle had already disappeared. At one time in the country between the Khamiesberg and the Orange river numerous tribes of Namaqua possessing vast herds of cattle used to live, who dug deep wells in the beds of the periodical streams, and covered them over to prevent evaporation. But at the time of Barrow's visit the country was desolate and uninhabited. In less than a century the original inhabitants had dwindled to four hordes, who were in a great measure subservient to the Dutch.
The Namaqua like the Kaffirs always paid the greatest attention to their cattle, and like the latter had a fashion of giving artificial directions to the horns of their oxen, the Namaqua, however, confining the shape of the horns to a spiral line something like those of the koodoo. This custom seems to have been a very wide-spread one, not only among these tribes of Hottentots, but also among the Amaxosa, Amampondo, Amazulu, and even some of the tribes to the north of the Kalahari and towards Ngami. The same method of ornamenting their cattle was practised by some of the inhabitants of Northern Africa in very ancient times, a fact which is found depicted in some of the old Egyptian paintings.
The Namaqua women were remarkable for the same prominences of body as those before noticed belonging to other tribes. Some of the younger women, although they had figures which might have been considered elegant, had the same conformation of certain parts of the body as the Bushwomen and the other Hottentots, yet it was in a less degree than is usual in the former, though more so than in those of the latter. In women who had borne children the breasts were disgustingly large and pendent, the usual way of giving suck to a child when carried on the back was either by throwing one of them over or under the shoulder. In this way they agree with the Latin satirist's description of Ethiopian women on the borders of Egypt. In the women of ancient Egypt enormous protuberances of body were very common, and have been attempted to be accounted for by various authors from a variety of causes. The men of this particular tribe, however, were taller in stature than the tribes farther to the south, and less robust.
The ancient weapons of the Namaqua were like those of the other Hottentot tribes, the bow and arrow. The country formerly abounded with elands, hartebeests, gemsboks, quaggas, and zebras, together with the giraffe, rhinoceros, and great numbers of beasts of prey. In allusion to the great diminution in the quantity of their game, and the loss of their cattle, an old Namaqua woman who was asked by the traveller Thompson if she could remember the first arrival of the Christians amongst them, replied that she had good reason for remembering it, for whereas before they came she knew not the want of a full meal, it was now a difficult thing to get a mouthful ! This individual was the oldest woman met with among the natives, and produced a daughter who headed five generations.
In 1797 the Namaqua in their reduced condition were in great dread of the Bushmen. They represented these as such a cruel, bloodthirsty race of people, that they never spared the life of any living thing that fell into their hands. And the Namaqua stated that even to their own countrymen who had taken up their residence with the Dutch, they behaved with atrocious cruelty. These poor wretches when retaken by their countrymen were generally put to the most excruciating tortures. A party of Bushmen, so the Namaqua informed Barrow, living in that part of the country, having captured a Namaqua Hottentot, set him up to the neck in a deep trench, and wedged him so fast with stones and earth that he was incapable of moving. In this position he remained the whole night and part of the next day, when he was discovered and liberated by some of his companions. The unfortunate fellow declared that he had been under the necessity of keeping his eyes and mouth in perpetual motion the whole day to prevent the vultures from devouring him.
From what can be gathered of the condition of the Bushmen in an undisturbed state, one cannot help suspecting that fearful cruelties must have been frequently committed by the intruding Hottentot tribes upon the aboriginal inhabitants of this portion of South Africa, and thus roused in their breasts this feeling of bitter revenge.
In 1813, at the time of the Rev. J. Campbell's first visit to the country, few of these people were left in Little Namaqualand except such as had congregated in the neighbourhood of Pella, near the left bank of the Orange river. Here the principal inhabitants of the place were the Namaqua, of whom one hundred and seventy-four were men, two hundred and three women, twenty-two young men, forty-six young women, and one hundred and ninety-one children. They lived in low circular huts, like the Koranas, composed of long rods, or withes, stuck into the ground at both ends, with mats made of rushes fastened over them. They differed from the Koranas in this, that in the inside they dug about a foot or a foot and a half into the ground, in which they slept, to protect them, as they said, from the wind. They lived entirely on their cattle, and having no trade and few wants, seemed to spend most of their time in groups conversing together. These people were under two captains, named Owib and his son Bundelzwart ; there was also another called Vlegermuis (the Bat). Few of them were tall. They were generally of slender make, and were a timid people.
The Namaqua country extended along the sea coast as far as the Damara.
The tribes to the north of the Orange river possessed in abundance homed cattle, sheep, and goats, which were assigned to the care of the children and boys. The women made the mats of rushes for covering their huts, milked the cows, the same as with the Koranas, built the huts, and dug roots for food. When they married, the husband gave cattle to the parents of the female and also slaughtered some for a feast. They danced to music from flutes made of reeds and roots of the camel-thorn tree, and used drums made of skins. Two parties often had a set fight, those who conquered seized the cows of their opponents and drank their milk, after which they returned them. The men manufactured wooden vessels for holding milk, and bowls, assagais, rings, axes, and knives ; they also dressed hides and dug wells. Their numbers had been reduced by wars of former times and broils among themselves.
Their wars generally originated in disputes about cattle, in which their chief wealth consisted, and frequently in one tribe boasting its superiority over another, which rousing the pride and rage of the party insulted, they flew to arms to ascertain which tribe was the strongest. Their object in war was to rob each other of cattle, and this gave rise to their fighting ; their battles were almost always in the vicinity of their cattle-kraals. If they took prisoners, some of these were killed, others liberated. It was rarely that a Namaqua left his own country even on a temporary visit to another. Those who lived in the neighbourhood of the Great river in 1813 were in a state of perpetual terror of that irrepressible marauder Africaander, the least rising of dust or sand excited great consternation, as they felt sure that Africaander was coming against them. In 1823 the number of the Namaqua had still further diminished to the south of the Orange river ; by that time all who could escape across the stream had done so, and were then living to the north of it.
The Namaqua, like the rest of their race, were divided into a variety of separate clans governed by a chief whose authority was very circumscribed and precarious. The existence of such a number of subdivisions to the north of the Orange river would suggest the idea that in addition to those who managed to escape from the pressure of the advancing Europeans by recrossing it, some portion of them had in all probability always remained there, and thus preserved the herds of cattle which were so much coveted by the Dutch.
In the south, those who had remained behind in the kraals bordering on the Colony had been long ago exterminated or reduced into servitude by the Boers. Thompson found only one independent tribe of these people living to the southward of the Orange at a place called t'Kams, near Pella. This Pella, which we have before mentioned, had become one of the landmarks in the history of the Koks and their Griqua followers, as it was from this spot that they started upon their migrations to the eastward along the valley of the Orange river. The features of the locality were striking and characteristic. Pella was described as standing at the foot of the Kaabas mountains, which rose in frowning grandeur almost perpendicularly to the height of about two thousand feet. It was about half an hour's walk from the 'Gariep, which flowed through a narrow rocky pass, forming a rapid between the two opposing ranges.
It was here that Thompson visited the last of the Namaqua tribes left to the south of the river. They were called Obseses,. i.e. the Bees, from a species which associates amicably with the common sort, a name probably adopted from the fact that this horde was formed by the association of the fragmentary portions of a number of those which had been previously broken up and scattered.N
Notes: One of the Namaqua clans north of the Orange was called Kannamaparrisip, or the veldschoen wearers.
These people, in common with every one else who unfortunately fell within the reach of the ruthless Africaander, suffered many atrocities at his hands and were plundered of much of their cattle. We will however defer our remarks upon this point until we examine more fully into the career of the notorious Africaander himself, and the influence his advent into the country had in giving an impetus to the migrations of several other tribes. The sufferings however which the Namaqua endured both on this and on previous occasions had no effect in teaching them forbearance to those whom they found weaker than themselves, and whom they attacked in their turn ; and it cannot be questioned but that they were guilty of acts of equal barbarity, not only upon the Bushmen, but also upon the Ovaherero, or Damara clans, living to the north of them.
The Namaqua, like the kindred Korana tribes, were ever making forays upon their weaker neighbours, and of the deliberate cruelty practised by them in some of these cattle raids upon the unoffending Ovaherero there is abundant evidence.
In one that has been recorded, an unfortunate Damara lad stated that these Hottentots, after shooting his parents, had invariably mingled his scanty rations of milk with wood ashes before they allowed him to drink it. This treatment was continued to the last possible stage of starvation, when he managed to escape by crawling away. Baines gives other instances of still greater atrocity. In a foray near Bokberg, a Herero cattle herd having been caught in the kraal by them, these Namaqua marauders cut off both his hands at the wrists. At Barmen Baines saw several hapless women, who had been mercilessly crippled in some of these cattle raids by the same inhuman wretches, who had cut off their feet as the easiest way of obtaining their iron anklets !
As the Namaqua have always clung to the zone of coast land into which their forefathers migrated, and as they retreated northward along the same line when the irresistible pressure from the south prevented all further progress in an opposite direction, their movements did not have such an effect in accelerating the annihilation of the old Bushman race as those of the tribes that sought an asylum in the interior of the country and therefore invaded the very heart of the widespread domains of the ancient aborigines. This retrograde movement of the Namaqua, which they were able to carry into effect without trenching upon the claims of any other emigrant tribes, seems to demonstrate the additional fact that a considerable interval of time elapsed between the southern migration of the Hottentot hordes and those who followed upon their trail, and that for a long period an extensive tract of unusurped Bushman territory intervened between them, until the receding wave of the nomadic Namaqua rolled over the space and broke in restless depredations upon the once distant boundaries of the Ovaherero.
The following tribes, although they do not belong to the Hottentot family, may yet be conveniently considered in this place, as these tribes on the western coast afford us a clearer illustration of the sequence in which the migration of the various tribes to the south took place than those of the central, eastern, and south-eastern portion of the continent, where they have been frequently huddled together and mixed up most confusedly by the occurrence of wide extended native wars.
These people most probably represent the pioneer tribes of the dark-coloured races that first followed upon the trail of the yellow-skins. They seem to possess a mixture of affinities, the counterparts of which among other people are only to be found in distinct races that have no present connexion with each other Thus, whilst they possess the physical characteristics of the Bantu nations, and are as a rule even blacker than the Ovaherero, and although they are as different in colour and stature from the Hottentots as it is possible for two races to be, still we find the remarkable fact that one language is common to both peoples. The territory which the Namaqua inhabit is entirely separate from that of the Berg-Damara, still none the less is the language of both nations the same. The difference between the Namaqua and Korana dialects is greater than that between the language of the Namaqua and Berg-Damara.
But these people are neither pastoral like the nomadic Hottentot hordes, nor are they agricultural like many of the more advanced of the Bantu nations ; they inhabit the rock-shelters of the mountains, or build small temporary huts in concealed positions like the Bushmen. They carry the same weapons as the Bushmen, a bow and quiver of arrows ; the iron points for war and poisoned arrows are quite like those of the Bushmen. Besides these, they have arrows without iron points for killing guinea fowls and other small game. These are the weapons of those who remain unsubdued in the Waterberg, and therefore in all probability the ancient arms of their race ; while the men of the clans that have been partially subjugated by the neighbouring tribes are mostly armed with a miserable spear with an iron point, which is often only about the length of a finger, and a stick hardly four or five feet long, together with one or two rude kerries, i.e. a stick a foot and a half long with the thick root end as the knob. These are chiefly employed as throwing weapons. Here then we find in this one race distinctive features which characterise the other three, still, notwithstanding these separate points of similarity, the Berg-Damara are a nation by themselves, and apparently quite distinct from the Ovaherero, the Namaqua, and the Bushmen.
Their number is estimated at about thirty thousand. They inhabit the mountainous parts in the south-west, west, and north-west of Hereroland, that is to say the mountains between Rehoboth and Otyimbingue, to the westward as far as is habitable, the Erongo mountains, the Etyo mountains, and the Waterberg, and to the north and north-west half way to Ondonga ; how far they live in the interior is unknown. They have not, however, been found in the hunting veld of the Bushmen to the east. Of their political condition very little is known. In individual families the house-father is the natural head, but for the rest it appears that every one who can provide for his sustenance can have his own way of doing and leaving undone what he likes. To the north of the Waterberg, however, a few chiefs have apparently authority over several thousand people.
From the extremely slight cohesion of this nation, it is also to be explained why it hardly ever comes forward as acting independently. Although enslaved, robbed, and murdered on all sides, somehow it never gathers its strength to go against its enemies. And yet such an undertaking might prove very dangerous to its oppressors, for the nation is numerous, and in possession of the mountains, the natural strongholds of the country. Instead, however, of thus combining for defence, at most a family when attacked will attempt resistance. In the wars between the Namaqua and Ovaherero, the Berg-Damara are found on either side, being employed on that of the Namaqua as spies and accomplices, following for the sake of booty. Dacha smoking seems to have sapped the last vestige of energy out of these people in the Waterberg.
As regards the mode of living among the Berg-Damara, it is to be remarked that it is the very meanest imaginable. Few of them possess cattle of any description, at most they try to get a few goats, all the remaining cattle which falls into their hands is eaten up at once, on which occasions they can consume a very large quantity of meat. Although they are as little herdsmen as hunters, they kill all the game they can, and for this purpose spare no trouble in making pitfalls, immense abattis into which they drive the game, as well as now and then organising a chase. Such is only the case, however, when game fortunately happens to be in the neighbourhood of their dwelling places. They do not, like the Bushmen or Hottentots, follow up the game with any earnestness, or undertake distant hunting expeditions for the sake of capturing it. Veld-kost, i.e. everything which is eatable and procurable in the desert, is their ordinary sustenance. All these things are sought for and gathered, and, whenever possible, a considerable store for bad times is kept on hand.
Their principal nourishment is locusts and uintjes. When the locust season comes, their time of harvest arrives, and when the country is being devastated by locusts the Berg-Damara rejoices, for the time has arrived when he is able without much trouble or exertion to fill his belly to his heart's content. The locusts which are caught are roasted at the fire, and crushed into powder, which can be preserved in this state for a long time. Besides these two chief articles of food, there are many other things which afford a living to the Berg-Damara ; here he finds a nest of wild bees, there he digs up an anthill to rob the industrious little creatures of their winter provision of grass seeds ; the thorn tree offers its gum, all sorts of berries, which chiefly consist of skin and kernel, all kinds of thick caterpillars are collected, mouse holes are dug up, and in general all that can be chewed or digested forms the food of the omnivorous Berg-Damara.
They live in bush huts of a very peculiar form, somewhat in the shape of a cone. A few long poles whose points meet together form the framework, and over and through these as much bush-work is put as will form at least a shelter just big enough for a fire near the entrance and sleeping places for the family. The household furniture is likewise simple. Earthen pots are manufactured by rolling out clay to slender sausage-like sticks and laying them in a spiral form so as to construct the sides, then the half dried wall is stroked smooth with the hands. They may have a few wooden buckets and bowls, the last always of an oval shape, and probably a wooden mortar, i.e. the trunk of a tree hollowed out, in which the locusts and uintjes are pounded with a wooden pestle.
Although it would be incorrect to say that they, like the Bachoana and Basutu tribes, were agriculturists, they seem to display incipient germs in the art of cultivation, as wherever a secure spot offers suitable soil and water for a small garden, they take advantage of the situation and plant tobacco, dacha, pumpkins, and melons. In this respect they far surpass the Ovaherero and the Namaqua.
The covering of the men is a belt, with a piece of skin in front and another behind like an apron. The aprons of women are generally adorned with small strings, all kinds of beads, buttons, and small bones. A peculiar custom is that the women, even during the greatest heat of the summer, carry about with them all the skins and skin rugs they possess, so that they may be always prepared for flight. It is from this cause that the women of even the poorest class amongst them are wrapped in furs, as among the Greenlanders. Similar to most of the Bushmen, the Tambukis, and a few other tribes, these people mutilate their hands by cutting off the first joint of one of their little fingers. There are certain families among them that cut out one testicle of every male child.
The Ovaherero take away the children of the Berg-Damara. The revenge which the Berg-Damara takes is to seize and slaughter the cattle of the Ovaherero. The first is a very trifling error in the eyes of the Ovaherero, whereas they look upon the second as a grievous crime, quite like murder. In these thefts the Berg- Damara have a great advantage over their pitiless enemies the Ovaherero, in being accustomed to the rough life of mountaineers, and thus easily escaping from the pursuing commandos which are sent after them. As mountain climbers they are not excelled by any other tribe in the country, and thus with their hard feet they pass rapidly over the rocks and leave their disappointed persecutors far in the rear. From the smallness and bushlike appearance of their houses, and as their situation is not betrayed by the lowing of cattle, it is no easy task without the assistance of a special guide to discover their position, especially as they are generally concealed in some nook of the mountains. The Ovaherero make short work with those who fall into their hands : the full-grown are murdered, and the children are reduced to abject slavery.
Notwithstanding they omit no opportunity of plundering their bitter enemies, no particular malignity of character is ascribed to them. Much, however, cannot be said in praise of their morality. Polygamy is the order of the day, and each has as many wives as will stay with him. The man has undoubtedly the same right to put away the wife as the wife has to leave the husband, and if one person feels himself stronger than another he will consider himself perfectly at liberty to take away by force any female to whom he takes a fancy.
Among their peculiar customs, the men, although such universal feeders, do not eat hares. The reason given for this is an old story of the hare and the moon. If, to wit, they were to eat the hare, they would become like the hare, which dies and does not return to life ; but if they do not eat the hare, they will become like the moon, which dies, but again becomes alive. Women and children, however, eat the hare, but on such occasions they must bury the animal's fur. The Berg-Damara bow to the stone-heaps of Heitsi Eibib, in the same manner as the Hottentots. This custom they may have copied from them, as many of the Ovaherero do the same. The Berg-Damara of the Waterberg speak of a large black stone situated at a certain spot in the Kaoko mountains, which they term their great-grandfather, and say that they and every other living thing came from it.
The Ovaherero like the Namaqua despise the Berg-Damara as heartily as possible. These, they declare, stand quite on a level with the baboons which inhabit the rocks, and dig up uintjes like the Berg-Damara. Nothing excites the laughter of the Ovaherero so much as to say that the Berg-Damara are as good men as themselves.
The Ovaherero or Damara.
It is stated upon good authority that the name Herero is an attempt to reproduce the whirring sound of the broad-bladed assagais used by the Ovaherero in their passage through the air, a name which was bestowed upon them by the Ovambo, who had good reason to remember this formidable weapon. Va is one of the forms of the plural prefix of personal nouns common to all South African Bantu languages, which may be rendered the men, sons, or those of, so that the meaning of the name Ovaherero, although not its literal translation, is the men of the whirring assagais.
These Ovaherero are known to have migrated from the north or north-east, but the period of their migration is not known. It cannot, however, be less remote probably than two hundred years. The name Damara is of comparatively recent origin, and is applied alike to Ovaherero, Ovambanderu, and Ovatyimba. The Ovambanderu were originally Ovaherero, but on separating themselves either acquired or assumed the name by which they are now known. Many Ovaherero and Ovambanderu are destitute of cattle and sheep, and live apart from the others, existing very much by the same means and in the same manner as the Bushmen. These, strangely enough, are not called either Ovaherero or Ovambanderu, but Ovatyimba. We may be allowed then to conjecture that of the three names these people are designated by, that of Ovatyimba, or Watyimba, as it is undoubtedly the oldest, is that they were originally known by, and we are at once led to consider that the cradle of the race is in the land by the waters of Muta Nzige, in the country of the Wazimba recently traversed by the intrepid Stanley.
The Ovaherero, or Damara as they are more commonly called, are the first of the black tribes we meet after passing through the yellow races scattered over that wide tract of country which extends for two hundred miles north of the Orange river, and includes Great Namaqualand and a large portion of the Kalahari desert. They belong, as has been shown, to the Bantu family, are a purely pastoral people, possessing great wealth in cattle and sheep, and are not the less interesting because so much has still to be learnt respecting them. The country they occupy is of vast extent and varying richness, admirably adapted to their requirements. Their neighbours to the north are the group of tribes of which the Ovambo is the most familiar to us.
In 1797 these Ovaherero lived, as now, to the north of the Namaqua. In 1813 the southern boundary of their country was some twenty-five days' journey to the north of the mouth of the Orange river. They were then a numerous people, divided into five principal clans. Their riches consisted in cattle ; while the poor Damaras, who lived in the vicinity of the ocean, frequently entered the service of the Namaqua.
Their chief amusement was dancing to music from a reed, and they also beat on an instrument made of skin resembling a drum. They were often at war with the Namaqua, generally in consequence of their stealing women from each other. Their endeavours were directed to obtaining each other's cattle. The prisoners taken by the Damaras were not put to death, but were made either servants or interpreters. On the death of a rich man they covered his grave with the horns or bones of the cattle he had killed when he was alive, as a proof, from their number, that he was rich.
They appear to have been ever in the same degraded state as that in which they were described in 1861 by the traveller Baines, who then visited them. They were not able to manufacture iron, and the assagais which they used were obtained in barter from the Ovambo, till the incursions of the Hottentots forced them to call their energies about them. The men of this tribe are of moderate height, and generally well made, of a rich brown colour like the Kaffir ; their hair is generally straightened out and matted in strands three or four inches long with fat and red clay. Their dress consists of from fifty to eighty fathoms of thin leather thongs coiled round the hips, and a small piece of skin between the legs, with the ends brought up and tucked under the cord. Beads, iron rings, and strips of tin and brass are used for ornaments.
The headdress worn by the women of the tribe is of a peculiar description. It is formed of stout hide, bent while still soft to fit the head, and kept in form by rows of ornamental stitching. To this is attached three large ear-shaped appendages, one at each side and one at the back, which are also stitched in such patterns as to give them the proper hollow. Long strings of iron tubing, which like their assagais and ornaments of metal were formerly obtained from the Ovambo, are worn pendent down the back. The weight of such a headdress cannot be trifling, but for a Damara woman to appear without it, with her shaven head uncovered before her husband, would be considered such a gross and unwarrantable breach of etiquette that even her discovered infidelity would sink into insignificance in comparison.
These people are about the most heartless under the sun. The aged and helpless are left to perish by several tribes, but that a mother should refuse to pull a few bundles of grass to close up a sleeping hut for a sick daughter, until she was threatened with personal chastisement if she neglected it, is almost beyond belief, yet Baines assures us that this was one of the occurrences which he witnessed during his travels among them. He also relates another case of an even more diabolical character. A Damara was found robbing his sister, a blind girl, of the food apportioned to her. When this was forbidden, he, in revenge, enticed his sister to a distance in the veld and there abandoned her in her helpless condition to be devoured by hyenas.
Cruel as was the treatment these Ovaherero received at the hands of the Namaqua, they made forays of an equally unjust character upon the Bushmen. Those who believe, writes the observant Baines, in the Arcadian innocence of the savage state, and fancy the poor natives know no ill till it is taught them by wicked Christians, ought to have a few weeks' experience of these people. Heaven knows some of us are bad enough, but the utter want of decency, and even of common humanity, apparent here seems to be the rule, and not the exception.
The Ovambo are living still farther north than the Ovaherero, and belong to a group of tribes that should be called the Avare , but from white men having first made the acquaintance of this branch we call the whole Ovambo.
They are described by Mr. Henry Chapman, F.R.G.S., as a very hospitable people, who must have been — before they were plundered by the Namaqua Hottentots — a rich and industrious nation, capable not only of working in metals, but also of undertaking works of no small importance, such as sinking wells of ninety or a hundred feet in depth, with a spiral path cut round the sides to enable people to descend to the water. Their villages were also fenced in with considerable care, and the huts and out-houses erected by a family have as imposing an appearance as those of a populous village among other tribes.
They trade with the Portuguese. Their oxen constitute the staple on their part, and in consequence of this one of their chiefs, when a foray was made upon his herds, allowed his cows to fall into the hands of his enemies and devoted all his energies to the preservation of his oxen.
It is much to be regretted that so little is known with regard to this interesting series of tribes. Their position on the western coast is an isolated one, cut off from the great lines of commercial traffic ; they have been seldom visited, and consequently only a very few facts have been recorded about them. But even these scattered fragments reveal to us the rich ungarnered field that awaits future investigation. We find there the representatives of races still remaining distinct, which in other parts of South Africa have been so rudely intermingled that the entanglement has become almost chaotic ; and therefore, although we know but little about these western tribes, the teachings of that little, if rightly read, have an important bearing upon the subject of our inquiry.
Here in considerable portions of this western country, as far north as our present researches carry us, we find tribes or clans of the aboriginal hunter race still persistently maintaining their independence, treated with the same contumely and unreasoning harshness as they have been treated by every other race with which they have ever come in contact, yet amid all the oppressions which have been heaped upon them, still clinging with the same steadfast tenacity to the ancient strongholds of their forefathers, as did their compatriots to the south. Here we find representatives of the yellow-skinned pastoral nomads, who, driven themselves from the intra-lacustrine regions of Central Africa, fled before the southern advance of the more strongly built men of the darker race. Here again we find representatives of these latter, whose pioneers pressed into the rear of some of the retreating Hottentot tribes, and became so far amalgamated with them that their descendants acquired the language of those with whom they had fraternised to the extinction of their own. We find that after acquiring the language of the Hottentots, their numbers so increased that their own physical characteristics were thoroughly inherited by the tribes which now represent them, the Berg-Damara of the present day.
We discover that this intermixture of races, giving rise to a seeming paradox, namely that of a dark-skinned people speaking a language allied to that of the Bushman, or the Hottentot, took place at every point upon which the hordes of stronger men advanced. We shall find as we proceed with our investigations that this fact forces itself prominently forward, especially in the migrations of the Amaxosa and other Coast Kaffirs, as well as those of the pioneer Bachoana tribes and some of the advanced clans of the Leghoya, which gave rise to the formation of such Bushman speaking peoples as the Masarwa and others.
We have here also a Bantu race still retaining the primitive hunter stage of existence, yet carrying with them the latent germ which developed in other branches of the family into that wonderful fondness for agriculture for which they have made themselves celebrated. Here we find in the Ovaherero a tribe of men wearing the staart-riem, a mode of covering which distinguishes the agricultural tribes of the Bachoana and Basutu from the more semi-agricultural Coast Kaffirs, still remaining in a partly pastoral condition ; while, superior to all these, we have the industrious Ovambo, skilled in the working of metals, displaying an energy in overcoming the difficulties of nature unparalleled in any other native tribe of South Africa, exhibiting also in the neatness and extent of their dwellings and in their passionate love for agricultural pursuits, all the characteristic traits of the most advanced of the Basutu tribes, such as the Bakuena, the Bamangwato, and others.
From the foregoing resume we seem to obtain a glimpse of the migratory movements of the two races here brought into contact. In the first place we find amongst those of the yellow-skins the old cave-dwellers who have occupied this portion of the world from a period of such remote antiquity that the advent of the nomadic pastoral Hottentots is perfectly recent. Again we have different phases of the stronger race of dark-coloured men who followed on the trail of the Hottentot hordes. These phases represent the different waves of migration thrown off like sequent ripples from a common centre, each carrying with it and preserving in a stereotyped manner a facsimile of the social condition and the modes of thought and action of the main central body from which it was derived at the time of its separation ; and each in succession showing the advance which had been made in the conditions of life by the parent stock during the interval which succeeded the previous separation, and by this means affording a reflex view of the various stages through which the parent stem itself had passed, from the time when its people subsisted upon veld-kost until they gradually merged into the hunter stage, whence they became developed from tamers of animals and cultivators of grass-seeds into the pastoral and agricultural tribes of the present day.
Having thus noticed the principal tribes along the eastern shore of the Atlantic, we shall now proceed to gather further particulars about those which proceeded to the south, and of which remnants exist until the present time. The principal of these are at present known under the titles of Korana and Griqua, and as the Koranas are certainly the purest of the Hottentot tribes which still survive, we will commence our investigation with them.
The Native Races of South Africa
01. Editor's Preface
15. The Koranas
17. The Griquas
24. The Barolong