top of page


The year 1820 was an eventful one in the history of the Bachoana and Basutu tribes, although some eight or ten years elapsed before they were entirely crushed beneath the terrors to which it gave birth. It was in that year that Moselekatze and his horde of Abaka-Zulu, as they styled themselves, broke away from the sanguinary yoke of Tshaka to commence for themselves a career which was to be marked, like that of the master whom they had deserted, with atrocious cruelties and remorseless bloodshedding.

Between that year and 1823 Makaba, who had already rendered himself formidable by his widespread successes, raised the fame of his Bangwaketse warriors to a higher pitch than they had ever before attained, until at last he exercised a power which threatened to overshadow all the less warlike and weaker tribes around him. At intervals, however, vague and exaggerated reports began to reach the Batlapin, even as early as 1821, of another still greater, but indefinable evil, that was moving among the nations who lived far towards the rising sun. Some of these rumours were of such a character that even the resident missionaries amongst them treated them as the reveries of a madman.

And even when in the beginning of the year 1822 these vague rumours began to take a definite shape, when it was affirmed that a mighty woman had made her appearance, whose name was Mantatisi, that she was at the head of an invincible army, surrounded by hosts of warriors numerous as the locusts, rushing onward among the interior nations carrying devastation and ruin wherever she went ; that she nourished the army with her milk, and sent out hornets before it, in one word was laying the world desolate, even then Mr. Moffat states that the missionaries considered that these numerous rumours had arisen from the destructive wars carried on by the tyrant Tshaka, and therefore too far removed to affect their operations ; while the tribes themselves were so much engrossed with the threatening and ever-increasing power of the Bangwaketse growing up in their very midst and so much nearer their own doors, that they were prevented from paying much heed to the mutterings of omens which appeared distant and chimerical. The star of Makaba appeared too high in the ascendant for anything else to interfere with it, and the Batlapin and the neighbouring tribes were living in constant dread of an attack of so powerful an enemy, of whom they could never speak without stigmatizing him with the most opprobrious epithets.

Thus blinded by the fear of more immediate danger, the immense hordes of the victorious and ruthless Mantatees were steadily advancing upon them, gathering strength by absorbing other tribes in their ranks as they approached, until their moving hosts took days in passing any given spot. Their foremost divisions had already swarmed over the Bangwaketse hills and fallen by hundreds in the fatal toils laid for them by the warrior chief ; they had stormed the Bahurutsi towns, reduced their great-place to ashes, and so completely despoiled that tribe of their great herds of cattle that the remnant were reduced to seek roots and wild game for their sustenance. They had now, after completing this last work of destruction, turned their steps through the Barolong territory towards Lithako, upon which place they were surely and rapidly moving, and yet the Batlapin were unaware of their danger.

So little was known or thought of the true position of affairs that Mr. Moffat started from Kuruman on a distant journey to the Bangwaketse along the very line of their advance. On the third day he reached Old Lithako. Here the reports of the Mantatees had somewhat revived, and the natives strongly advised him to proceed no farther than Nokoneng, some twenty miles distant. Rumours had reached Nokoneng that the Mantatees had already attacked the Barolong at Kunuana, about 100 miles off, and that their towns were in the hands of the marauders ; but as spies who had been sent out returned without hearing anything of the reported invaders, he again set forward and travelled four days farther, through a dry and trackless part of the country, when he arrived at Mosite, a fine valley with some pools of water and plenty of game.

Here however there was no longer room for doubt. Strange men were seen watching from a distant height, who from their unusual conduct in not approaching the waggons it was concluded must be strangers from a great distance, or some of the Mantatees. At length two passing Barolong informed the travellers that the Mantatees were already in possession of the town which lay in their rear behind some heights which they could distinctly see, while one of their informants had narrowly escaped with his life in the conflict with the invaders ; added to this some prisoners who had escaped affirmed that the enemy were then about to start for Lithako !

The time for prompt action had arrived, and an immediate return became imperative. On the way back to their station, thousands who were yet slumbering in fancied security were startled by the communication of the fearful news. The intelligence when almost too late spread with rapidity, and all was commotion and confusion. Fugitives from the latest scattered tribes were already arriving, increasing the terror by their recitals. The Mantatees were already upon them, their hordes were in reality both numerous and powerful, they had destroyed many of the Bakone towns and slaughtered immense numbers of people, they had laid Kurrichane in ruins and scattered the Barolong, and in addition were said to be cannibals !

Tidings of so alarming a character threw a gloom over the entire population ; all their previous perils were comparatively insignificant to this. A meeting was held, and three alternatives were proposed : the first was to make the best defence they could against their formidable foe single-handed, an apparently hopeless undertaking ; the second, to abandon their position and flee nearer to the Cape Colony for protection ; the third, to appeal to the well-armed Griquas for assistance. The last and wisest plan was adopted, and Mr. Moffat at once undertook the mission to Griquatown. We have already seen that by a fortunate coincidence the Griqua chiefs were assembled in Griquatown, the Koks having accompanied Mr. Thompson at the time of the arrival of the appeal from the Batlapin.

With commendable activity, forgetting for the moment their own personal grievances, they were at once in the saddle ; but with all their promptitude eleven days would have to elapse before the much needed succour could arrive at Koeromanie. Eleven days appeared an awful space in such a time of wild excitement and apprehension, when every hour appeared an age, and every moment might be the herald of momentous intelligence, the precursor of calamities and suffering not easily described. At this crisis, Mr. Moffat, accompanied by Mr. Thompson, returned to Koeromanie with the news of the promised succour, hoping thus to encourage the Batlapin until the Griqua aid could arrive. There all was agitation and dismay. Warriors donned their war dresses, and chiefs adorned themselves with leopard skins and plumes of feathers, shields and assagais were in requisition, quivers containing poisoned arrows were slung from their shoulders, and they paraded with their battle-axes in their hands. Orders were sent off to their different towns and villages and to their neighbours, the Batlaro ; a great pitso, or parliament, was held, at which members of the following tribes were present : Batlapin, Barolong, Batlaro, Bamairi, and Bakotu.

The warriors arrived at the great place of assembly and took "up the positions allotted to them, seating themselves as they came upon the ground in close rows, holding their shields in front of them, and their assagais, seven or eight of which were stuck behind each shield, bristling up like a wood of spears. On the opposite side the old men, women, and children took their station. War-songs were chanted, and mock-fights engaged in with all the fantastic gestures their wild imaginations could invent. The most privileged were those who had killed an enemy in battle.

When Mothibi stood up and commanded silence, he was answered by a deep groan from the mass of warriors in token of attention. Drawing an assagai from behind his shield, he pointed to the north-east, frequently thrusting his weapon in that direction, as if plunging it into an enemy, denouncing a curse at the same time against the invaders, thus declaring war against them. A whistling sound was the answer of approval from the whole of the warriors. He then pointed towards the south and south-west, with the same action as before, and denounced a curse against the ox-eaters (Bushmen), which was again answered in a similar manner. Returning the weapon to its place, he commenced to address them.

Various were the orations made that day by the several chiefs, and fortunately fragments of their wild oratory have been preserved by Messrs. Moffat and Thompson, who were present on this occasion. Be silent, ye Batlapin ! Be silent, ye Barolong ! Even the Makooas (white people) will be silent on this day, were the introductory exclamations of Mothibi. Ye sons of Molehabangwe ! the Mantatees are a strong and conquering people. They have destroyed many nations. They are now on their way to destroy us. The cause is a great one, it involves our very existence. I now wait to hear what is the general opinion. Let every one speak his mind freely.

He then made the same movements with his assagai as at the commencement, after which he waved the point towards the heavens, when all cried out Pula ! (Rain !) equal to the expression Blessing ! He then sat down amidst repeated shouts and other tokens of applause. War-dances, accompanied with shouts, introduced and concluded every speech.

Moshume said : To-day we are called upon to oppose an enemy who is the enemy of every one. If we flee, they will overtake us ; if we fight, they will overwhelm us. They are as strong as a lion, they kill, and devour, and spare none. I know you, ye Batlapin, at home and in the face of women ye are men, but in the face of an enemy ye are women, ever ready to flee when ye should stand firm. But consider and prepare your hearts to-day, be united in one, and hardened for the hour of trial.

Ranyouwe exhorted them to stand fast like men, not to be mere braggarts in the presence of women to make believe that they were mighty men. Keep your boasting, said he, until you have performed deeds worthy to be known.

Be silent ! cried the young warrior Isite, we are not Barimo,N we are but men ! The Mantatees are mighty conquerors ; if we wait until they fall upon us, and are then forced to yield, we lose all. Let us attack the invaders before they advance farther, if we are forced to retreat there will then be time for the women and the feeble who remain behind to flee. We may fight and retire, fight and retire again, still fight, and at last conquer. But this we cannot do if we wait for the enemies' approach and let them attack us in our dwellings.

Notes: The departed shades of their great chiefs, their tutelar deities.

When Taisho, the Wise, stood up and demanded silence, an old man ran forward, stretching forth his arms towards the chief and exclaiming in a loud voice : Behold the man who shall speak wisdom ! Be silent ! Be instructed ! A man, a wise man has stood up to speak ! Taisho harangued them as the " sons of Molehabangwe."

He reproached them with cowardice, with desertion in the time of war. Ye cowards ! ye vagabonds ! he exclaimed, deny the charge if you can. Shall I count up how often you have done so ? Were I to repeat the instances you would decamp like a chastened dog, or with shame place your heads between your knees. Reflect on what is before you, let the subject sink deep into your hearts, that you turn not your backs in the day of battle. You have heard of the battles that the Mantatees have fought, of the nations they have dispersed. You have heard that they now repose in quiet, and you look alone for deliverance to the Griquas with their guns and their horses. But I say again, prepare your hearts, stand up in your own defence, be strong, be resolute, else the invaders will overwhelm us and we shall perish from the earth !

Then turning to Mothibi, he continued, you are too indifferent in the concerns of your people, you are rolled up in apathy, this is the day to show that you are in reality a great chief and a man !

Dleloqua, a chief advanced in years, said : Ye sons of Molehabangwe ! have you heard enough to convince you that it is your duty to go forth to battle against the Mantatees, a people whose only aim is to plunder and destroy ? Ye sons of Molehabangwe ! ye have acted wisely this day. Ye have done well, first to deliberate, and then proceed to action. Moffat, our friend, revealed to us our peril, even as the daybreak after a dark night discloses to a man the danger that approached him when darkness shut his eyes. The peril is great, we must not act like Bachoana, but like white men. My fathers ! my brothers ! my sons ! let us fortify our hearts, that disgrace may not haunt us. If we be not in readiness to defend our towns, our families, and our herds, our destruction is certain. Wherefore no one must attempt to excuse himself from battle. All must be obedient. All must be as one. This is a great pitso, therefore let your hearts be hard and great, oh ! ye sons of Molehabangwe !

It is best that we proceed against the enemy, said Mothibi in his reply, that they come no nearer ; let not our towns be the seat of war, let not our houses be the scenes of bloodshed and destruction. No ! let the blood of our enemies be shed at a distance from our wives and children. Yet some of you talk ignorantly, your words are the words of children or of men confounded. I am left almost alone ; my two brothers have abandoned me, they have taken wives of another nation, and allow their wives to direct them, their wives are their chiefs ! Then turning to his younger brothers, he imprecated a curse upon them if they should follow the example of their elder brethren. Addressing the people, he said : You walk over my head while I sleep ; but you now see the wise white men respect me. Had they not been our friends, we must have fled before the enemy.

Turning to Dleloqua, he continued : I hear you my father, I understand you my father, your words are true and good for the ear. May evil overtake the disobedient ! May they be broken in pieces ! Be silent ye women ! said he, addressing them, ye who plague your husbands, who steal their goods, and give them to others ; be silent and hinder not your husbands and your children by your evil words. Be silent ye kidney-eaters (turning to the old men), ye who are fit for nothing but to prowl about whenever an ox is killed. If our cattle are carried off where will you get kidneys ?N

Notes: ! The Bachoana imagine that none who eat of the kidney of an ox will have any offspring ; on this account no one except the aged will taste them. Hence the contemptuous term of kidney-eater, synonymous with dotard.

Then addressing the warriors, there are many of you, he said, who do not deserve to eat out of a bowl, but only out of a broken pot, think on what has been said, and obey without murmuring. I say again, ye warriors, prepare for battle ! Let your shields be strong, your quivers full of arrows, and your battle-axes as sharp as hunger ! Turning once more to the women, he said : Prevent not the warrior from going out to battle by your cunning insinuations. No ! rouse the warrior to glory, and he will return with honourable scars, fresh marks of valour will cover his thighs, and we shall then renew the war song and the dance, and relate the story of our conquest

At the conclusion of this speech the air was rent with acclamations, the whole assembly occasionally joining in the dance, the women frequently taking the weapons out of the hands of the men and brandishing them in the most violent manner ; and people of all ages continued using the most extravagant and frantic gestures for nearly two hours. Notwithstanding this sudden outburst of popular enthusiasm, however, great uneasiness prevailed, and everything was prepared for instant flight if it should be necessary.

That night people arrived from Lithako with the intelligence that the Mantatees were at a town belonging to the Barolong, not far from that place, and that Mahumapelo, the chief of Nokuning, a town eighteen miles north-east of Lithako, was preparing for flight. They learnt also that these terrible marauders had seized one of the Tamaha chiefs, and making him a prisoner, had forced him to become their guide towards Lithako. And one of the fugitives who had escaped from their hands declared that their intention was first to plunder the towns of Lithako and Koeromanie, and then proceed towards Griquatown. The man declared that there were yellow people among the Mantatees, armed with strange weapons and wearing cotton garments, that they were an innumerable multitude, countless as the spikes of grass that wave on the plains of the wilderness.

In this state of suspense Mr. George Thompson determined to ride on horseback to Lithako, to obtain if possible more definite information as to the movements of these dreaded enemies. Mr. Moffat volunteered to accompany him, and they accordingly started on the 16th of June, attended by a Mochoana servant. They did not, however, proceed farther than the Koeromanie fountain when they were forced to turn back, owing to damage done to the waggon which accompanied them. The inhabitants of Koeromanie were actively preparing for war, making great quantities of poisoned arrows and other arms, and keeping up the war dance by moonlight the whole night long, to a sort of monotonous music.

Two days thus passed in great suspense. News then arrived that the chief of Nokuning had abandoned his town, and that the Mantatees were within a short distance of it. In the evening, whilst sitting conversing upon the state of affairs, some one thundered at the door, and on its being opened, Sampin, one of Mothibi's captains, rushed in the very picture of terror and dismay, calling out the Mantatees ! the Mantatees !

At first it was thought they were entering the town, but this proved not to be the case ; certain intelligence had, however, arrived that they had entered Nokuning, and that this fierce and formidable enemy was now within eighty miles of the mission station, which at the rate at which they travelled was not three days' march. The unwarlike character of the Bachoana and their unfitness to withstand such formidable assailants was strikingly manifested in the total absence of anything like system or decision in the plans of defence in the several communities, who were now being destroyed piecemeal in their separate hordes.

The following morning the cattle were kept near the town ; the people began to bury their most valuable effects and their corn in large earthen jars, and the missionaries were likewise preparing their waggons to flee at a moment's notice. At this critical juncture Mr. Thompson determined to set out by himself to discover, if possible, the true position and movements of the steadily approaching enemy, and for this purpose he started once more on the 19th of June, attended only by a Bachoana guide.

The great-place of the Batlapin had been, as we have already seen, near the old ruins of Lithako, until the death of Molehabangwe. The town was then moved some five miles farther to the north-east. After a time Mothibi removed again with a portion of the tribe nearer to Koeromanie, leaving the remainder under the charge of a subordinate chief named Levenkel. On the 20th the scouting party arrived near Lithako. Extensive fields of millet were found on every side, but there was an unusual stillness about both the fields and town as they approached. The town was found entirely deserted by its inhabitants, not a human being was to be seen, although a few hours before it had contained from six to eight thousand people. They had evidently fled in great precipitation, for in a number of the huts the cooking pots were found standing with food in them half dressed. It was evident that the approach of the enemy had taken them by surprise. The only sign of life was a large white vulture perched like the genius of desolation upon a tall camel-thorn that shaded the hut of some chieftain.

Proceeding a few miles beyond, their horses becoming faint and weary, Mr. Thompson and Arend, a half-caste who had joined him on the road, were discussing whether they should descend into the valley to allow their horses to drink, when Arend suddenly called out " the Mantatees ! the Mantatees ! we are surrounded ! " And there sure enough, on looking towards the spot to which he pointed, the Mantatees were to be seen covering a very extensive tract of ground, marching on in an immense black mass in the valley below, pushing on towards the very river to which but a moment before the scouting party had intended to take their horses to drink. This was the first time that vast invading horde was ever seen by a white man.

With considerable presence of mind Arend immediately said " don't move, or they will see us ! " Accordingly they remained for some time motionless as the trees around them. It was soon seen that they were not perceived, as the invaders continued their course towards the river, trampling into blackness the grassy meadows over which they passed. The scouts were somewhat relieved at being undiscovered, although expecting every moment to find their retreat intercepted by some other division coming in an opposite direction. Not satisfied however with what they had seen, they determined if possible to get a front view by trying to gain some rising ground in the direction of Old Lithako. They succeeded in doing this, by dashing at a gallop through the river just as the van of the enemy was rushing into the pools a few hundred yards higher up, and putting spurs to their horses, they gained a position overlooking the site of the old town.

They had not been there five minutes when they saw the savages rushing like hungry wolves into the few huts which were left. At the same moment some of the Mantatees discovered the scouts on the hill above, and a large body of them at once advanced towards the horsemen. The rapid advance of the savages gave the lookout party no time for leisure, and they were obliged again to put spurs to their horses and gallop to another eminence at a little distance. Here they again turned to look at the enemy, but seeing nothing of them, they made towards the plain over which they had previously passed. This movement was a most fortunate one for them, for they had scarcely proceeded five hundred yards when, on looking back, they observed the height they had just left occupied by a crowd of the enemy, who had evidently approached unperceived under cover of a ravine ; and had not Mr. Thompson and his two companions started off the instant they did, they would certainly have been surrounded before they could have noticed their advance.

After this fortunate escape, Mr. Thompson made the best of his way back to Koeromanie, where he arrived about midnight after a long moonlight ride. The Griquas had not yet arrived, and the missionaries, seeing no other hope, commenced making preparations for immediate flight. At daybreak the whole town was astir. Mothibi, the chief, was absent, and a general evacuation of the town was determined upon. By eight o'clock hundreds of pack oxen were continually moving off to the westward, loaded with the most valuable effects of the inhabitants, consisting of utensils of various kinds, wooden and earthen vessels, red paint-stone, powder of blink-klip, corn, karosses, etc., etc. Meanwhile the lowing of cattle, the wailing of women and children, the feeble and tottering gait of the old and infirm, hurriedly moved from their mats of repose to seek safety in flight, and the sullen despondency of the warriors, formed altogether a scene of distress extremely touching and pitiable.

About nine the report of a musket was suddenly heard from the entrance of the town, and this instantly followed by a second. A shout of exultation arose from the Bachoana. Two Griqua horsemen, the avant-couriers of the rest, had arrived to announce the advance of their countrymen, whom they had left forty miles behind, tarrying to refresh their horses. The intention of the main body was not to continue their march until the next day. One of the horsemen was however dispatched with urgent entreaties that they would push on at once to Koeromanie, before the town was entirely deserted. At noon Mothibi returned, but when night came on and darkness began to surround the place, and no Griquas had yet made their appearance, dire apprehensions once more began to seize the inhabitants. The warriors in the town were indeed all awake and watchful, but it was known that if the enemy came before the Griquas, they were ready to fly without resistance and join the women in the mountains.

The night was therefore passed in a state of feverish excitement, till dawn of day, when the missionaries, despairing of the Griquas, ordered the oxen to be put to the waggons in order to retreat with their families without further delay. The Bachoana, seeing this, abandoned all hope of succour, and having no confidence in themselves, prepared also for instant flight. At this moment a cloud of dust was observed to the southward. It rapidly approached, when to the unspeakable joy of all, a troop of horsemen, the Griquas, emerged from it, and entered the town at full gallop. Though neither disciplined nor accoutred like regular troops, and dressed in a garb both motley and ragged, yet with their glittering muskets and bold bearing they had a very martial appearance. The air was rent with acclamations, never before had such horses, such muskets, such military array, been seen in the land of the Batlapin. They came as defenders in the hour of need, and they were hailed by the paralysed natives as champions and heroes.

The Griquas were under the command of the chiefs Adam and Cornelius Kok, Barend Barends, and Andries Waterboer. Though not exceeding eighty in number, they appeared a very formidable force contrasted with the ill-armed and unwarlike Bachoana. All was now animation and activity. The two missionaries were busy repairing muskets, several of those of the allies being out of order ; many of the Griquas were busy casting bullets, and the Batlapin warriors, with renovated confidence, were burnishing their assagais and whetting their battle-axes.

A pitso was held, during which a woman of heroic mien, contrary to the custom of the country, rushed into the midst and addressed the meeting with much energy : " Ye Griquas ! should any of my countrymen turn their backs in the day of battle, shoot them, destroy them without mercy, such cowards deserve not to live !

After this a general feasting commenced throughout the town, at which all classes, both of the Bachoana and Griquas, gave themselves up to indulgence without regard to the imminent danger which threatened them. Intelligence was brought that the Mantatees were still at Lithako, regaling themselves on the provisions which the inhabitants had abandoned in their hurried flight. Some fugitive Bushmen also met the Mantatees. They had been hunting, and had just slain a quagga, when they were set upon by a party of the marauders and deprived of their prey. One of them had received a severe wound in the thigh from some large cutting weapon, differing from any of the arms of the Bachoana tribes.

Relieved from immediate anxiety by the receipt of this news, the warriors of both nations devoted themselves without control to feasting and merriment. More cattle were slaughtered, and the roasting and riot went on around the fires without intermission, as if they expected to eat no more for a month to come.

The Griqua chiefs decided to halt for two or three days before making an onward movement, for the double purpose of refreshing their horses and awaiting the arrival of a reinforcement of their countrymen. This reinforcement was now on its way, and consisted of twenty horsemen and about fifty men with waggons and pack oxen, thus forming altogether the greatest warlike expedition the Griquas had ever been engaged in since they were a community. Upon Mr. Melvill's arrival it was settled that Waterboer should act as chief-captain on the expedition against the Mantatees. Mothibi and his chiefs were invited to join the commando with their warriors, but with an intimation that in the event of a battle being inevitable, the Bachoana must strictly refrain from the slaughter of women and children (as was their barbarous practice), and that all the enemy who laid down their arms should receive quarter as prisoners of war.

On Tuesday the 24th of June they commenced their onward march. At the Makuareen river Mothibi joined the commando with five hundred warriors, and as many more were ordered to join from the towns to the westward under his control. A party of ten Griquas, commanded by Waterboer and accompanied by Mr. Moffat, was sent forward to reconnoitre the enemy. They started at daybreak, and about ten o'clock came in sight of the Mantatees, who were encamped on a declivity a short distance south of the town of Lithako, while a second and more numerous division occupied the town itself.

This great host, when first seen by Moffat, Waterboer, and the reconnoitring party, seemed at the distance an immense black patch on the opposite declivity, from which many small columns of smoke were rising, which made the onlookers imagine when they first saw it that it was not a dense mass of human beings, but a great area where the grass had been set on fire during the night ; but what was their astonishment when on closer inspection they found that this immense black-covered surface formed the camp of but one portion of the enemy ? As the reconnoitring party drew nearer, their approach was discovered, when considerable confusion was seen in the camp, while the war axes and brass ornaments could be distinctly seen glittering in the sun.

Even here famine, their greatest enemy, had already commenced dogging the steps of this vast multitude : dead bodies reduced to skeletons were found lying about, some had evidently been in search of water and there expired. The scouts approached within a couple of musket-shots from the enemy. While standing in this position, they noticed that all the cattle were enclosed in the centre of the vast host. No one came near them, except a few warriors who in a threatening attitude dared them to approach, but the spears they hurled fell short of the mark. They attempted to parley, and approached within a hundred yards, when the savages uttering a hideous yell, several hundred armed men rushed forward in a furious manner, throwing their weapons with such velocity that the scouting party had scarcely time to turn their affrighted steeds and gallop clear of them. Even as it was, one of the Griquas narrowly escaped being knocked from his horse by one of their war clubs.

After this little episode the advance guard of the Griquas retired behind a hill about a mile from the savages, where they off-saddled and remained all night. The Mantatees, as seen and described by Moffat, were a tall, robust people, in features resembling the Bachoana ; their dress consisted of prepared oxhides hanging double over their shoulders. The men during the engagement which followed were nearly naked, having on their heads a round cockade of black ostrich feathers. Their ornaments were large copper rings, sometimes eight in number, worn round their necks, with numerous arm, leg, and ear rings of the same metal. Their weapons were war axes of various shapes, assagais, and clubs ; into many of their knobsticks were inserted pieces of iron resembling a sickle, but more curved, sometimes to a circle, and sharp on the outside. Their language was only a dialect of Sechoana, and they were more rude and barbarous than the tribes around Lithako. Such then were the enemies these Griquas had to encounter.

At break of day, after passing an almost sleepless night on the plain, the Griqua commando was in motion, and proceeding forward joined the party in advance a little after sunrise. It was about eight o'clock when the Griquas galloped up towards the enemy. It was hoped that the imposing appearance of about one hundred horsemen would so intimidate the invaders as to bring them to a parley. This however failed, for although they were encamped on an open plain, they continued sitting, without appearing in the least alarmed at the approach of the Griqua cavalry. A few only were seen packing their oxen, and a large herd of cattle was enclosed in their centre, surrounded by men, women, and children. The whole of this division was estimated at not less than fifteen thousand.

The most advanced of the Griquas drew up in front of them, at a distance of about one hundred and fifty yards ; when suddenly, before half the Griquas had come up, they raised with hoarse stentorian voices, calculated to daunt, their frightful savage yell or war whoop, and threw out two wings, as if with the intention of surrounding the advanced party ; hundreds of their warriors then rushed forward, furiously discharging their clubs and javelins. So very sudden and impetuous was this assault that the Griqua chiefs and their men had scarcely time to turn their horses' heads and gallop out of reach of their missiles. Their appearance was truly formidable. Their warriors were very tall, athletic men, quite black,N with no other clothing than a sort of apron round their loins. Besides the plumes of black ostrich feathers upon their heads, their assagais, battle-axes, and clubs, they had large oval shields, which when rushing forward they held close to the ground on the left side.

Notes: This arose from the fact that they were smeared all over with grease and soot, or charcoal, instead of red ochre. We shall discover as we proceed that different tribes had special war colours with which they painted themselves.

The Griquas having only fifteen rounds of ammunition each, and finding what a fierce and audacious enemy they had to deal with, reserved their fire in order to shoot deliberately. As soon therefore as they were out of reach of the enemy, the Griquas faced about, Waterboer and some of the others dismounting. Waterboer levelled the first of their warriors, and immediately afterwards some of the others following his example fired upon the foremost of the advancing enemy and brought them to the ground. Somewhat daunted by this, the wings retreated upon the main body, crouching behind their shields whenever a shot was fired. Moffat states that it was confidently expected that they would be cowed when they saw their warriors fall by an invisible weapon, and it was hoped that they would be humbled and alarmed, and thus further bloodshed be prevented ; but though they beheld with astonishment the dead and the stricken warriors writhing in the dust, the majority looked with lion-like fierceness at the horsemen, and yelled vengeance, wrenching the weapons from the hands of their dying companions to supply those they had discharged at their antagonists.

In the meanwhile the Batlapin warriors came running down from the heights to join the combat, but little advantage was gained from their aid, for only a small number had courage to venture near enough to reach the enemy with their arrows, and all of them fled with the utmost precipitation whenever a score or two of the more warlike Mantatees rushed forth against them.

Again the Griquas approached nearer, when the enemy a second time suddenly poured forth their armed bands upon them, more numerous and fierce than the first. The Griquas dismounted to take better aim, for shots fired from horseback produced very little effect, and they had no ammunition to spare. This mode of fighting however was not without danger, for the onset of the enemy was so fierce and sudden, and they ran with so much swiftness, endeavouring each time to surround the small party, that very brief space was allowed to jump again into the saddles and gallop out of reach. The firing, though without order, was very destructive, as each took a steady aim, and thus many of their chief men, although they shewed undaunted spirit, fell victims to their own temerity.

In this manner, alternately advancing and retreating, and pausing occasionally to give them an opportunity of coming to terms, the conflict continued for about two hours and a half. During the whole of this time the enemy evinced a very bold and resolute spirit, continually rushing out upon the horsemen, treading over the bodies of their fallen countrymen, with a furious and desperate courage. But when they found that all their efforts to surround or overtake the Griquas were in vain, and that their bravest warriors were falling thick on the field, mown down by invisible weapons against which their shields formed no defence, their audacity began to abate, though they still shewed no intention of retreating.

The Griquas had endeavoured to draw their warriors as far as possible into the plain, and then by galloping between them and the main body, to cut them off, and so decide the conflict ; but they speedily became aware of this design, and kept closer to the circle of women and children which surrounded the cattle, appearing obstinately determined to stand by them. The Griquas then approached more closely, and a number dismounting occupied a rising ground, from which they could distinguish and select the warriors now driven in upon the multitude. Every shot was deadly, and the greatest confusion and dismay began to manifest themselves among the Mantatees. At length increasing the confusion all the cattle burst out through the crowd which encircled them, and were taken possession of by the Griquas. The whole multitude then began to move off slowly in a westerly direction, quickening their pace as they retreated. The horsemen attempted to intercept them, when they immediately descended towards the ravine, as if determined not to return by the way they came. This they crossed, but were again intercepted. After they had fled about half a mile in the direction of Lithako, where the other division of their forces lay encamped, the Griquas turned their flank with a view of driving them to the eastward and preventing them making a junction. Thus driven in an opposite direction, they ascended a rising ground, when suddenly wheeling about they rushed down upon their pursuers with as great fury as at the beginning. The Griquas being close upon them, it was with the utmost difficulty that many escaped falling into their hands.

Great confusion, says Moffat, now prevailed, the ground being very stony, which rendered it difficult to manage the horses. At this moment an awful scene was presented to the view. The undulating country around was covered with warriors all in motion, so that it was difficult, as a few of the Batlapin had rallied again and were once more bestirring themselves, to say who were enemies and who were friends. Clouds of dust were rising from the immense masses, who appeared flying with terror, or pursuing with fear. To the alarming confusion was added the bellowing of oxen, the vociferations of the yet unvanquished warriors, mingled with the groans of the dying, the piercing wail of women, and the cries from infant voices.

After this charge, the Mantatees prosecuted their course as at first, and in spite of the destructive fire of their pursuers, who still endeavoured to turn them, effected a junction with their countrymen. Just as they entered the town, being reinforced by several thousands of fresh warriors, they once more sallied out to battle ; and it was not until they found their utmost efforts to close with their assailants fruitless, and their two principal chiefs and bravest leaders had fallen, that they were with great slaughter driven back. The whole united horde began now to move slowly out of the town, setting it on fire as they departed. The flames and smoke bursting from the thatched houses, and the clouds of dust raised by such a multitude and rolling over the swarthy host which was closely followed by the Griqua horsemen, gave a wild and striking effect to the scene, not easily described.

As soon as the Mantatees got out from among the houses, they again made an attempt to surround their pursuers, while encumbered by the huts and half -blinded by the smoke arid dust. A band of warriors crept round among the bushes unperceived, and were coming in behind when they were discovered. A party of the Griquas was sent to encounter them, who drove them back to the main body. They continued to retreat to the north-east with more order than was expected. The armed men remained in the rear and on each wing, and occasionally turned upon the Griquas, who followed them about eight miles beyond Lithako. The pursuit was then given up about half-past three o'clock, and as soon as the Griquas had left them, they all sat down on the plain.

When the two divisions of the Mantatees joined, says Mr. Melvill, they appeared extremely numerous.N They extended in a dense crowded mass, about five hundred yards broad and a hundred yards deep. If the number be computed by the space occupied, allowing only a square yard to each individual, they must have amounted to fifty thousand persons.

Notes: The apparent apathy of the second and more powerful division of the Mantatee horde during the early part of the battle appears surprising. Moffat says that during the fight it was observed that some women went backwards and forwards to the town, only half a mile distant, with the utmost indifference ; and that while the commando was struggling between hope and despair of being able to rout the enemy, information was brought that half of their forces, under Chuane, was reposing in the town, within sound of the guns, perfectly regardless of the fate of the other division, under Karaganye. These must have been names given by the Batlapin to these chiefs. It is supposed that they possessed entire confidence in the yet invincible army of the latter, being the more warlike of the two.

In the meanwhile the Batlapin, who were hanging upon the neighbouring heights watching the issue of the conflict, as soon as they perceived that the Mantatees had taken fairly to flight, came down upon the field of battle like ferocious wolves, to plunder the dead and dying and to glut their vengeance by murdering the wounded and the helpless women and children, dispatching them with their assagais and war axes. The Batlapin were seen in all directions at this murderous work, and it was only by, striking them and threatening to shoot them that they were compelled to desist. The women were seen in little groups surrounded by these barbarians, who were tearing away beads and brass rings from their necks and arms. A woman was holding out her arms to one of these ruffians, in order that the bracelets might be taken off, but not being able to effect his purpose quickly, the savage cut off both her arms with a battle-axe, and then dispatched her.

The bold and unconquerable spirit of the Mantatee warriors, continues the same eye-witness, formed a striking contrast to the pusillanimity of the Batlapin. Many who had been wounded by the first fire of the Griquas were left by the retreat of their countrymen, scattered over the field. These had been fallen upon by the Batlapin, and slaughtered without mercy ; some were found still defending themselves, with a desperate courage worthy of a better fate. Mr. Melvill states that he saw one man with ten assagais and as many arrows sticking in his body, who kept about forty of his enemies at a distance ; another, severely wounded, fought desperately with one knee on the ground, keeping at bay a band of assailants, and plucking a spear out of his body to throw at them. They seemed to have no idea of yielding or asking for quarter, probably because in their own wars they were not accustomed to give or receive mercy.

It is not in my power, adds Mr. Melvill, to convey any adequate idea of my feelings as I passed over the field after the battle had ended. Dead bodies scattered about, women wounded and left to languish in agony, and little children crying for their mothers, these were objects enough to melt any heart ; but alas ! man in a savage state is altogether selfish and unfeeling, inhuman almost as the beasts of prey. The dead warriors, though in battle they had displayed amazing agility and swiftness, looked lean and gaunt. They, as well as the women and infirm, had evidently suffered much from hunger. Their natural colour was a shade darker than that of the Bachoana, whom in features they also nearly resembled.

Mr. Moffat, who was present at the battle of Lithako, thus describes the part he took in it. Seeing the savage ferocity of the Bachoana in killing the inoffensive women and children for the sake of a few paltry rings, or of being able to boast that they had killed some of the Mantatees, he turned his attention to these objects of pity, who were flying in consternation in all directions. By galloping in amongst them, many of the Bachoana were deterred from their barbarous purpose. It was distressing to see mothers and infants rolling in blood, and the living babe in the arms of the dead mother. All ages and both sexes lay prostrate on the ground. Shortly after they began to retreat, the women, seeing mercy was shewn to them, instead of flying generally sat down and baring their bosoms exclaimed " I am a woman ! I am a woman ! " It seemed impossible for the men to yield. There were several instances of wounded men being surrounded by fifty Batlapin, but it was not until life was almost extinct that a single one would allow himself to be conquered.

This authority saw more than one instance of a man fighting boldly with ten or twelve spears and arrows fixed in his body. The cries of infants who had fallen from the breasts of their mothers, who had fled or were slain, were distinctly heard. Several times he narrowly escaped himself from the spears and war axes of the wounded, while busy in rescuing the women and children. The men, struggling with death, would raise themselves from the ground, and discharge their weapons at any one of their conquerors within their reach ; their hostile and revengeful spirit only ceased when life was extinct. Instead of laying down their arms and suing for quarter, some actually fought on their knees, their legs being broken. In this deadly conflict not one on the side of the Griquas was killed, and only one slightly wounded. One Mochoana lost his life while too eagerly seeking for plunder. The slain of the enemy numbered between four and five hundred, while a large portion of the cattle which accompanied them fell into the hands of the victors.

As an instance of the innate ferocity of even the so-called mildest of these tribes, Mothibi, the paramount chief, when remonstrated with on the indiscriminate massacre of women and children after the repulse of the Mantatees, and informed that they must be given over to the conquerors, started up in a rage, and with a large stone knocked down one woman, and one of his attendants immediately stabbed to the heart a male prisoner standing by him.

With such an example set to his subjects, how can we wonder that although Moffat declares that he shrank from detailing all the feats of savage barbarity and lion-like ferocity which he witnessed among the Mantatees, he is compelled to add that no less revengeful and furious was the spirit manifested by the Batlapin and other tribes, who though the most arrant cowards compared with the invaders, shewed that they were, if less inured to war, as cruel as those who for years had been imbruing their hands in the blood of thousands. The wounded enemy they baited with clubs, assagais, and stones, accompanied with yellings and countenances indicative of fiendish joy.

The hapless women found no quarter, especially if they possessed anything like ornaments to tempt the cupidity of their plunderers. A few copper rings round the neck, from which it was difficult to take them, was the signal for the already uplifted battle-axe to sever the head from the trunk, or the arm from the body, when the plunderer would grasp with a smile his bloody trophies. Others, in order to be able to return home with the triumph of victors, would pursue the screaming boy or girl, and not satisfied with severing a limb from the human frame, would exhibit their contempt for the victim of their cruel revenge, by seizing the head and hurling it from them, or kicking it to a distance.

Many of the Mantatees were suffering dreadfully from want ; even in the heat of the battle the poorer class seized pieces of meat and devoured them raw. At the close of the contest Mr. Moffat and Mr. Melvill collected many women and children, but it was most difficult to get them forward to a place of safety. They willingly followed until they came to a piece of meat which had been thrown away in the flight, when nearly all would halt and tear and devour it. Some prisoners were so extremely weak that they were obliged to be left behind. From the prisoners it was learnt that the Mantatees had intended to commence their march towards Koeromanie the very day they were encountered, and had slaughtered cattle to make themselves strong. They had driven out the inhabitants of Nokuning, ransacked and burnt that town, and were about to finish with Lithako in the same manner, when the thunder and lightning of the Griquas, as they termed the musketry, drove them back.

Mr. Melvill in his report gives the following description of their dress and weapons. Their dress consisted in general of brayed skins, hanging loose over their shoulders. Some of the chiefs had karosses of a superior description, and not a few wore long loose shawls of cotton cloth. Some of this, which was examined by Mr. Thompson, was stated by him to be of Surat manufacture, and must therefore have been procured from some of the Portuguese settlements on the east coast, or from the Moors of Inhambane.

Most of the women were almost destitute of clothing, having for the greater part only a small piece of skin suspended round the loins. The men, having thrown off their mantles during the engagement, were entirely naked, with the exception of the piece of skin round their loins. Their ornaments were the black ostrich feathers and copper rings before mentioned, with large copper plates hanging from their ears. Besides the weapons in common use, many of them had a weapon of a very peculiar construction, being an iron blade of a circular shape, with a cutting sabre edge, fastened to a stick with a heavy knobbed head, which was used both as a missile and in close combat. They had also large shields of bullocks' hide, which, like those of the Kaffirs, covered almost the whole body.

Previous to the inroads of these Mantatees, the tribes between Lithako and the Bakuena were first the division of the Batlapin at Nokuning, whose chief was Mahumapela ; three days beyond this was the great-place of the Barolong, under the chief Mashow or Matlou. From this to the territory of the Bahurutsi, five days, and one day beyond them a very large tribe under a chief called Makapan. This was the Batlou, an offshoot of the Barolong, who migrated in a northerly direction. A day beyond them were the Bakuena, extending thence to the eastward to a few days’ journey from Delagoa Bay. It is of this group of which we shall have to treat after completing our investigation of the Batlapin and the Barolong. Most of these tribes had been exposed to the attacks of the Mantatees, and after their defeat at Lithako the retreating enemy once more began to spread the terror of their name among the Barolong. They attacked and plundered three different towns, and even threatened to turn once more on Koeromanie to revenge their loss, supposing that by that time the horses and guns had departed, while they knew that the Batlapin, whom they considered as the dust of their feet, would be utterly unable to resist them.

As soon as the inhabitants of Koeromanie heard this, confusion and dismay once more reigned amongst the Batlapin, and everything was prepared for instant flight. Night but added to their terrors, as they feared that the break of day might be heralded by the yells of their terrible enemies ; while the cry of "the Mantatees ! " went through the hearts of thousands like an electric shock. Those who witnessed it affirm that it is impossible to describe the intensity of feeling exhibited among the crowds of excited and panic-stricken people, who were scattering themselves of their own accord to elude the grasp of these ferocious invaders. Ultimately and unexpectedly, however, these dreaded foes turned their attacks once more against the Barolong clans, and Koeromanie was left, after all the alarms, unmolested.

As these formidable hordes marched along, the entire country surrounding them and in their trail swarmed with stragglers and small detached parties. Most of these were found to be in a state of abject wretchedness and utter starvation. Some were found literally feasting on the dead bodies of their companions. This scarcity of provisions had been severely felt before their repulse at Lithako, where the scouting party, as already noticed, saw the remains of several who had died from exhaustion ; and yet herds of cattle were found in the possession of their warriors. This apparent paradox, that members of a conquering army which captured all before it should be perishing from hunger is explained by the fact that while the leading chiefs and the chosen bands of warriors, who immediately surrounded their persons as a life guard, were able to feast on the captured oxen, their auxiliaries, or those who would be looked upon as but of second rank, merely obtained an occasional banquet on the eve of an expected battle, to renew their strength and fit them for the contest ; while around these were swarms of camp followers, vassals, and slaves, derived in a great measure from the conquered tribes, who were almost entirely dependent for their commissariat upon whatever the veld would supply through which they were passing.

Under any circumstances the condition of these hangers-on must have been pitiable, while after the least reverse occasioning increased rapidity of movement, the horrors of famine, intensified by the accumulation of their numbers, stared them in the face ; and thus while the masses of warriors moved in compact bodies, these unfortunates swarmed along the line of march in their endeavours to obtain the means of subsistence.

But it was not only in the Batlapin and the Barolong territory, with all their conquests and the many thousands of cattle they must have captured, that numbers of their hordes were dying of hunger. Their march for hundreds of miles might have been tracked by human bones. When they were attacked at Lithako, not having seen horsemen before, they imagined that horse and rider constituted one animal ; but this, it was afterwards learnt, did not intimidate them ; for even after that their determination was fixed upon attacking the Colony, having heard there were immense flocks of sheep there. Had they succeeded in reaching the Orange river or the border of the Colony, where they would most probably have been defeated, the destruction of human life would have been even more dreadful, as they must have perished from want when retreating through the exasperated tribes they had vanquished in quest of a place of rest, as their own country by that time would have been occupied by the then-rising Abaka-Zulu chief Moselekatze.

After the repulse of the Mantatees and the breaking up of the combined hordes which had threatened to attack Koeromanie, a state of confusion and unrest spread rapidly through the country. Wars and rumours of wars were heard of everywhere. The great Matabili storm-cloud had risen, and thus the shadow of a still more terrible enemy than the Mantatees was already darkening the borders of the beautiful and fertile country of the Bakuena ; the powerful tribe of the Bangwaketse had been repulsed, and their old warrior chief Makaba slain, the broken bands of the Mantatees were harrying the country to the south-east, and pressing on the rear of the retreating Basutu.

Such commotions, writes Moffat, were unknown within the memory of the oldest native. Tradition could give no parallel. They existed as far northward as our knowledge of the tribes extended. Many tribes once powerful and prosperous were almost extinct, and it now became more and more evident that had not the Mantatees been defeated before old Lithako, the Bachoana territory, Griqualand, and the Orange river valley would have been swept of their inhabitants. The savage conquerors would have been formidable enemies to the Colony, and would in all probability have fallen in thousands before the sweeping bomb or rocket, while the scattered remains of the aborigines must have either perished in the deserts or fallen under the iron yoke of their neighbours. The infection of war and plunder was such that scarcely a tribe or town in the whole country was exempt, while to secure the much-coveted plunder, the basest as well as the most miserable acts of treachery were frequently resorted to. The Batlapin, who of all the native tribes had suffered the least, owing to the proximity of the mission, instead of being thankful, authorised one of their number, the chief's brother Molala (the Poor One) to go with a body of warriors and attack the outposts of their old foes, the once formidable Bangwaketse.

They proceeded as far as the Barolong territory, where they met the chief Gontse, who received and fed them, being related to the reigning family of the Batlapin. Gontse dissuaded them from the daring attempt, which would in all probability terminate in their destruction. Molala, convinced of this, resolved on returning, but before doing so treacherously watched an opportunity, after they had been treated with so much hospitality, of seizing the Barolong cattle whilst they were grazing away from the town, and having two or three guns compelled the owners to flee. Even after this capture, the same authority assures us that the Batlapin continued extremely unsettled. Indeed the whole country appeared like an ocean in a storm, its inhabitants like the waves, alternately rolling forward and receding, carrying with them devastation and misery. Numerous successful commandos from the south wore out the spirits of the people, and compelled them to lead a vagrant life, ready to start on the first alarm.

From 1823 to about the end of 1828 the Koranas once more commenced their northern depredations, and frequently during that period harassed both the Batlapin and the Barolong, committing many atrocities on several occasions, not only burning down the villages or kraals, but also butchering indiscriminately the women and children. One of their last marauding expeditions into the Batlapin country took place in 1828, and ended disastrously for them. It appears, says Moffat, that the party reached the Malopo, and had taken a drove of Barolong cattle, when they wandered from their course and came in contact with the subjects of a powerful chief of the Batlapin. One of these, a man of influence, was shot. The news was instantly carried to headquarters, and a plan was laid by which the marauders fell into an ambuscade, whence only nine narrowly escaped with their lives, leaving all they had in their possession behind them.

This was among the last efforts in a northerly direction of the hordes of these ruthless desperadoes, who had been for the five years mentioned scattering throughout the Bachoana tribes devastation, famine, and death ; and had made repeated but unsuccessful attacks on the people of Moselekatze. They had filled up their cup of iniquity, and there had been no power to arrest or overthrow them. The Bushmen, pestilence, prodigality, and beasts of prey at last deprived them of their thousands of cattle ; disease and famine thinned their camps, till at length, in places which had echoed with the shouts of savage triumph over slaughtered tribes and the noise of rude revelry and debauch, nothing was heard but the howl of the hyena as an appropriate funeral dirge over the remains of a people, the victims of insubordination, ferocity, and lust.

By 1829 the overwhelming power of the Matabili had already destroyed many powerful tribes, and saturated the Bakone or Bakuena hills and plains with blood, following up the destruction commenced by the Mantatees. With regard to the Batlapin, during these occurrences Mahura, a younger son of Molehabangwe and brother of Mothibi, had stationed himself at Old Lithako, and the nearest outposts of the dreaded Matabili were still far removed to the eastward. After a time, however, upon their nearer approach, and their occupying the country to the banks of the Malopo, this chief removed to Taung, where he was joined by other Batlapin and Banairi.

The incessant alarms and losses to which the Batlapin were exposed led to the ultimate breaking up of their tribe. No further help was to be obtained from the Griquatown mission people, they therefore fled first to the intervening Bushman territory, and thence to the Vaal, whence some of them never returned ; while fragments of tribes scattered throughout the country gathered by degrees round the mission station at Koeromanie. It was during this period of turmoil that Mothibi abandoned his town near Koeromanie, with the intention of following the Griqua chief Adam Kok to Philippolis, incited doubtless to this step by the recollection of the protection afforded by the Kok family to his father's tribe at the time of their great distress ; but this movement was unpopular with many of the Batlapin, and a great number remained with his brother Mahura, who thus obtained the sobriquet Mapudianye, meaning " the Gatherer." This became his nom de guerre ; and while Mothibi was migrating still farther to the southward, Mahura occupied Lithakong, repulsing many foreign invaders and rapidly increasing his power and influence.

Mothibi only went as far as the junction of the Great Riet river and the Vaal, where he located himself ; the adherents of Mahura, however, considered that he had deserted his post by leaving the country when in distress, and thus a considerable number of them renounced their allegiance and on the death of Mothibi, Molala, his next brother, was instituted chief-paramount by them ; but he died young, having been killed and devoured by lions whilst hunting near the Vaal. The sceptre did not, however, revert to Mothibi's son, Gasibone (It does not see), but passed on to Mankuruane, the son of Molala, when Mahura be- came his guardian and regent, and another uncle, Saku, his commander in chief or great fighting captain.

Henceforth the tribe became divided into two distinct branches, one under Mankuruane, the other under Gasibone. Rivalries and jealousies sprang up between them, while each maintained that his was the legal right to supreme authority over the tribe. This separation seems to have arisen partly from the ambition of Mahura, and his hostility to " the house " of his nephew. He was described by Captain Harris as a portly personage, of exceedingly forbidding manners, and unprepossessing exterior. Perhaps also a circumstance mentioned by another writer may throw some light upon the matter. Mahura was said to have been a churchgoer and a friend to the missionaries, while Gasibone was wild and unruly. A third or minor branch of the same tribe was formed under Jantje, who fled with a portion of the Batlapin towards the junction of the Kolong and the Vaal, and settled at Likhatlong.

We will now proceed to the next tribe presented for our consideration.

bottom of page