FOR years Livingtone labored among the Backwains, at Chonuane,
whose chief was a man of great intelligence, but who had some
amusing ideas and ways. When he embraced Christianity he
wanted to make his subjects converts by thrashing them with whips of
rhinoceros hide. Livingstone could not approve of this new mode of
conversion, and the chief was persuaded to pursue a milder course.
As Livingstone labored for years among the Backwains, or Bechuanas,
a full account of the manners, customs, and singular character of this
tribe will be of interest to the reader.
In appearance they are a fine race of men, in some respects similar to
the Kaffirs, with whom they have many customs in common. Their
dress is not very remarkable, except that they are perhaps the best dress-
ers of skins that are to be found in Africa, the pliancy of the skin and
the neatness of the sewing being unrivalled. They are good workers in
metal, and supply many of the surrounding tribes both with ornaments
As to dress, the Bechuanas, as a rule, use more covering than many of
the surrounding tribes. The women especially wear several aprons.
The first is made of thongs, like those of the Kaffirs, and over that is
generally one of skin. As she can afford it she adds others, but always
contrives to have the outside apron decorated with beads or other adorn-
This series of aprons, however, is all that a Bechuana woman considers
necessary in the way of dress, the kaross, or outside garment, being
adopted merely as a defence against the weather, and not from any idea
that covering to the body is needed for the purpose of delicacy. In
figure they are not so prepossessing as many of the surrounding tribes,
'being usually short, stout, and clumsy, which latter defect is rendered
still more conspicuous by the quantities of beads which they hang in heavy
coils around their waists and necks, and the multitude of metal rings with
which they load their arms and ankles. They even load their hair as much
as possible, drawing it out into a series of little spokes, and dressing them
so copiously with grease and sibila, that at a few yards they look as if their
heads were covered with a cap composed of metallic prongs, and at a
greater distance as if they were wearing bands of polished steel on their
They consider a plentiful smearing of grease and red ochre to be the
very acme of a fashionable toilet, and think that washing the body is a
disgusting custom. Women are the smokers of the tribe, the men
preferring snuff, and rather despising the pipe as a woman's imple-
The Bechuanas can hardly be selected as examples of good moral
character. No one who knows them can believe a word they say,
and they will steal everything that they can carry. They are singu-
larly accomplished thieves, and the habit of stealing is so ingrained in
their nature, that if a man is detected in the veiy act he feels not
the least shame, but rather takes blame to himself for
being so inexpert as to be found out.
Small articles they steal in the most ingenious manner. Should it be hang-
ing up, they contrive to handle it carelessly and let it fall on the
ground, and then they begin active operations. Standing near the coveted
article, and trying to look as if they were not aware of its existence, they
quietly scrape a hole in the sand with one of their feet, push the object
of their desire into the hole, cover it up again with sand, and smooth the
surface so as to leave no trace that the ground has been disturbed.
They steal each other's goods, whenever they can find an opportunity,
but they are only too glad to find an opportunity of exercising their art
on a white man, whose property is sure to be worth stealing. A travel-
ler in their country has therefore a hard life, for he knows that there is
not a single article in his possession which will not vanish if he leaves it
unguarded for a few minutes. Indeed, as Mr. Baines well observes, there
is not an honest nerve or fibre in a Bechuana's body ; from the root of
his tongue to the tips of his toes, every muscle is thoroughly trained in
the art of thieving. If they merely sit near an article of moderate size,
when they move off it moves with them, in a manner that no wearer of
trousers can conceive. Even Mr. Moffatt, who had a singular capacity
for discovering good qualities which had lain latent and unsuspected,
writes in very forcible terms respecting the utter dishonesty of the
Stealing Cattle by Night.
Some mornings, says Mr. Moffatt, we had to record thefts committed
in the course of twenty-four hours, in our houses, our smith-shop, our
garden, and among our cattle in the field. These they have more than
once driven into a bog or mire, at a late hour informing us of the acci-
dent, as they termed it ; and, as it was then too dark to render assistance^
one or more would fall a prey to the hyaenas or hungry natives. One
night they entered our cattle-fold, killed one of our best draught oxen,
and carried the whole away, except one shoulder. We were compelled
to use much meat, from the great scarcity of grain and vegetables; our
sheep we had to purchase at a distance, and very thankful might we be
if out of twenty we secured the largest half for ourselves. They would
break their legs, cut off their tails, and more frequently carry off the
Tools, such as saws, axes, and adzes, were losses severely felt, as we
could not at that time replace them, when there was no intercourse what-
ever with the colony. Some of our tools and utensils which they stole,
on finding the metal not what they expected, they would bring back
beaten into all shapes, and offer them in exchange for some other article
of value. Knives were always eagerly coveted ; our metal spoons they
melted; and when we were supplied with plated iron ones, which they
found not so pliable, they supposed them bewitched. Very often, when
?employed working at a distance from the house, if there was no one in
whom he could confide, the missionary would be compelled to carry
them all to the place where he went to seek a draught of water, well know-
ing that if they were left they would take wings before he could return.
An Iron Kettle Be\vitclied.
The following ludicrous circumstance once happened, and was related
to the writer by a native in graphic style. Two men had succeeded in
Stealing an iron pot Having just taken it from the fire, it was rather
warm for handing conveniently over a fence, and by doing so it fell on a
stone, and was cracked. ' It is iron," said they, and off they went with
their booty, resolving to make the best of it ; that is, if it would not
serve for cooking, they would transform it into knives and spears. After
some time had elapsed, and the hue and cry about the missing pot had
nearly died away, it was brought forth to a native smith, who had laid
in a stock of charcoal for the occasion. The pot was further broken to
make it more convenient to lay hold of with the tongs, which are gener-
ally made of the bark of a tree. The native Vulcan, unacquainted with
cast iron, having with his small bellows, one in each hand, produced a
good heat, drew a piece from the fire. To his utter amazement, it flew
into pieces at the first stroke of his little hammer. Another and another
piece was brought under the action of the fire, and then under the
hammer, with no better success. Both the thief and the smith, gazing-
with eyes and mouth dilated on the fragments of iron scattered round
the stone anvil, declared their belief that the pot was bewitched, and
concluded pot-stealing to be a bad speculation.
To the thieving. propensities of these people there was no end. They
would peep into the rude hut that was used for a church, in order to see
who was preaching, and would then go off to the preacher's house, and
rob it at their ease. When the missionaries, at the expense of great
labor, made a series of irrigating canals, for the purpose of watering their
gardens, the women would slyly cut the banks of the channels, and divert
the water. They even broke down the dam which led the water from
the river, merely for the sake of depriving somebody of something ; and
when, in spite of all their drawbacks, some vegetables had been grown,
the crops were stolen, even though a constant watch was kept over them.
These accomplished thieves have even been known to steal meat out
of the pot in which it was being boiled, having also the insolence to
substitute a stone for the pilfered meat. One traveller found that all his
followers were so continually robbed by the Bechuanas, that at last he
ceased from endeavoring to discover the thieves, and threatened instead
to punish any man who allowed an article to be stolen from him. They
do not even spare their own chief, and would rob him with as little
compunction as if he were a foreigner.
There was need among such people of more than one Livingstone to
teach them the virtue of honesty.
Dr. Lichtenstein, who certainly had a better opmion of the Bechuanas
than they deserved, was once cheated by them in a very ingenious
manner. He had purchased three ivory rings with some tobacco, but
when he left the place he found that the same ring had been sold to him
three successive times, the natives behind him having picked his pockets
with the dexterity of a London thief, and then passed the ring to their
companions to be again offered for sale.
Altogether, the character of the Bechuanas does not seem to be an
agreeable one, and even the missionaries who have gone among them,
and naturally are inclined to look on the best side of their wild flocks,
have very little to say in their favor, and plenty to say against them.
They seem to be as heartless toward the infirm and aged as the Nama-
quas, and if one of their number is ill or wounded, so that he cannot
wait upon himself, he is carried outside the camp, and there left until he
recovers or dies. A small and frail hut is built for him, a portion of food
is given to him daily, and in the evening a fire is made, and fuel placed
near so that it may be kept up. On one occasion the son of a chief was
wounded by a buffalo, and, according to ancient custom, was taken out
of the camp. The fire happened to go out, and in consequence a lion
came and carried off the wounded man in the night. It was once thought
that this cruel custom arose from the fear of infection, but this is evi-
dently not the case, as persons afflicted with infectious diseases are not
disturbed as long as they can help themselves. Superstition may prob-
ably be the true reason for it.
A Horrible Deed.
They have but little regard for human life, especially that of a woman,
and a husband may kill his wife if he likes, without any particular notice
being taken of it. One traveller mentions that a husband became angry
with his wife about some trifling matter, seized his assagai, and killed her
on the spot. The body was dragged out by the heels, and thrown into
the bush to be devoured by the hysenas, and there was an end of the
whole business. The traveller, being horrified by such an action, laid an
information before the chief, and was only laughed at for his pains, the
chief thinking that for anyone to be shocked at so ordinary an occur-
rence was a very good joke.
Still, the Bechuana has his redeeming qualities. They are not quar-
relsome, and Burchell remarks that, during all the time which he spent
among them, he never saw two men openly quarrelling, nor any public
breach of decorum. They are persevering and industrious in the arts of
peace, and, as has been seen, learn to work in iron and to carve wood
with a skill that can only be attained by long and careful practice. They
are more attached to the soil than many of the neighboring tribes, culti-
vating it carefully, and in this art far surpassing the Kaffirs. Their
houses, too, are of elaborate construction, and built with a care and so-
lidity which show that the inhabitants are not nomads, but residents on
The government of the Bechuanas is primarily monarchical, but not
entirely despotic. The king has his own way in most matters, but his
chiefs can always exercise a check upon him by summoning a parliament,
or " Picho," as it is called. The Picho affords a truly wild and pictur-
esque spectacle. The warriors, in their full panoply of war, seat them-
selves in a circle, in the midst of which is the chair of the king. The
various speakers take their turns at addressing the assembly, and speak
with the greatest freedom, not even sparing the king himself, but pub-
licly arraigning him for any shortcomings, real or fancied, and sometimes
gaining their point. As to the king himself, he generally opens the par-
liament with a few sentences, and then remains silent until all the speeches
have been delivered. He then answers those that have been made against
himself, and becomes greatly excited, leaping about the ring, brandishing
his spear and shield, and lashing himself into an almost frantic state.
This is the usual procedure among savages, and the more excited a man
becomes, the better he is supposed to speak afterward.
An African Congress.
An extract from Mr. Moffatt's account of a Picho will give a good idea
of the proceedings: Although the whole exhibits a veiy grotesque scene,
business is carried on wiih the most perfect order. There is but little
cheering, and still less hissing, while every speaker fearlessly states his
own sentiments. The audience is seated on the ground, each man having
before him his war-club. Many were adorned with tiger-skins and tails,
and had plumes of feathers waving on their heads. In the centre a suffi-
cient space was left for the privileged those who had killed an enemy
in battle to dance and sing, in which they exhibited the most violent
and fantastic gestures conceivable, which drew forth from the spectators
the most clamorous applause.
When they retire to their seats, the speaker commences by command-
ing silence. "Be silent, ye Batlapis, be silent, ye Barolongs," addressing
each tribe distinctly, not excepting the white people, if any happen to be
present, and to which each responds with a groan. He then takes from
his shield a spear, and points it in the direction in which the enemy is
advancing, imprecating a curse upon them, and thus declaring war by re-
peatedly thrusting his spear in that direction, as if plunging it into an
enemy. This receives a loud whistling sound of applause. He next
directs his spear toward the Bushman country, south and southwest,
imprecating also a curse on those " ox-eaters," as they are called.
The king, on this, as on all similar occasions, introduced the business
of the day by " Ye sons of Molchabanque " viewing all the influential
men present as the friends or allies of his kingdom, which rose to more
than its former eminence under the reign of that monarch, his father
" the Mantatees are a strong and victorious people ; they have over-
whelmed many nations, and they are approaching to destroy us. We
have been apprised of their manners, their deeds, their weapons, and their
intentions ! We cannot stand against the Mantatees ; we must now
concert, conclude, and be determined to stand.
"The case is a great one. I now wait to hear what the general
opinion is. Let every one speak his mind, and then I shall speak
again." Mothibi manoeuvred his spear as at the commencement, and
then pointing it toward heaven, the audience shouted "Pula" (rain), on
which he sat down amidst a din of applause. Between each speaker a
part or verse of a war-song is sung, the same antics are then performed,
and again universal silence is commanded.
When several speakers had delivered their sentiments, chiefly exhort-
ing to unanimity and courage, Mothibi resumed his central position, and
after the usual gesticulations, commanded silence. Having noticed some
remarks of the preceding speakers, he added : " It is evident that the best
plan is to proceed against the enemy, that they come no nearer. Let not
our towns be the seat of war ; let not our houses be the scenes of blood-
shed and destruction. No ! let the blood of the enemy be spilt at a dis-
tance from our wives and children." Turning to the aged chief, he said :
"I hear you, my father; I understand you, my father; your words are
true, they are good for the ear ; it is good that we be instructed by the
Makooas ; I wish those evil who will not obey ; I wish that they may be
broken into pieces."
Then addressing the warriors, " There are many of you 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 command you,
ye chiefs of the Batlapis, Batlares, Bamairis, Barolongs, and Bakotus, that
you acquaint all your tribes of the proceedings of this day ; let none
be ignorant; I say again, ye warriors, prepare for the battle; let your
shields be strong, your quivers full of arrows, and your battle-axes
as sharp as hunger. Be silent, ye kidney-eaters " (addressing the old
men), " ye are of no further use but to hang about for kidneys when
an ox is slaughtered. If your oxen are taken, where will you get any
more?" This was the chief's spirited address to the men.
Eloquent Appeal to Women.
Turning 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 honorable scars, fresh marks of valor will
cover his thighs, and we shall then renew the war-song and 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 from the bands
of the men and brandishing them in the most violent manner, people of all
ages using the most extravagant and frantic gestures for nearly two hours.
In explanation of the strange word, "kidney-eaters," the reader must
be made aware that kidneys are eaten only by the old of both sexes.
Young people will not touch them on any account, from the superstitious
idea that they can have no children if they do so. The word of applause,
"pula," or rain, is used metaphorically to signify that the words of the
speaker are to the hearers like rain on a thirsty soil.
In the last few lines of the king's speech, mention is made of the
"honorable scars upon the thighs." He is here alluding to a curious
practice among the Bechuanas. After a battle, those who have killed an
enemy assemble by night, and, after exhibiting the trophies of their
prowess, each goes to the prophet or priest, who takes a sharp assagai
and makes a long cut from the hip to the knee. One of these cuts is
made for each enemy that has been slain, and some distinguished war-
riors have their legs absolutely striped with scars.
The Order of the Scar.
As the wound is a tolerably deep one, and as ashes are plentifully rubbed
'into it, the scar remains for life, and is more conspicuous than it would be
in an American, leaving a white track upon the dark skin. In spite of
the severity of the wound, all of the successful warriors join in a dance,
which is kept up all night, and only terminates at sunrise. No one is
allowed to make the cut for himself, and anyone who did so would at
once be detected by the jealous eyes of his companions. Moreover, in
order to substantiate his claim, each warrior is obliged to produce his
trophy a small piece of flesh with the skin attached, cut from the body
of his foe.
When the ceremony of investiture with the Order of the Scar takes
place, a large fire is made, inside which no one may pass except the priest
and those who can show a trophy. On the outside of the fence are con-
gregated the women and all the men who have not been fortunate enough
to distinguish themselves. One by one the warriors advance to the
priest, show the trophy, have it approved, and then take their place round
the fire. Each man then lays the trophy on the glowing coals, and, when it
is thoroughly roasted, eats it. This custom arises from a notion that the
courage of the slain warrior then passes into the body of the man who
killed him, and aids also in making him invulnerable. The Bechuanas
do not like this custom, but, on the contrary, view it with nearly as much
abhorrence as Europeans can do, only yielding to it from a desire not to
controvert the ancient custom of their nation.
Butchery for Glory.
It may well be imagined that this ceremony incites the warriors, both
old and young, to distinguish themselves in battle, in order that they may
have the right of entering the sacred fence, and be publicly invested with
the honorable scar of valor. On one such occasion, a man who was well
known for his courage could not succeed in killing any of the enemy,
because their numbers were so comparatively small that all had been
killed before he could reach them. At night he was almost beside him-
self with anger and mortification, and positively wept with rage at being
excluded from the sacred enclosure. At last he sprang away from the
place, ran at full speed to his house, killed one of his own servants, and
returned to the spot, bringing with him the requisite passport of admit-
tance. In this act he was held to be perfectly justified, because the slain
man was a captive taken in war, and therefore, according to Bechuanan ^
ideas, his life belonged to' his master, and could be taken whenever it
might be more useful to him than the living slave.
In war, the Bechuanas are but cruel enemies, killing the wounded with-
out mercy, and even butchering the inoffensive women and children. The
desire to possess the coveted trophy of success is probably the cause of
their ruthlessness. In some divisions of the Bechuana tribes, such as the
Bachapins, the successful warriors do not eat the trophy, but dry it and
hang it round their necks, eating instead a portion of the liver of the slain
man. In all cases, however, it seems that some part of the enemy has to
The weapons used in war are not at all like those which are employed
by the Kaffirs. The Bechuanan shield is much smaller than that of the
Kaffirs. The assagai is not intended to be used as a missile, but as a
weapon for hand-to-hand combat. Indeed, the amount of labor which is
bestowed upon it renders it too valuable to be flung at an enemy, who
might avoid the blow, and then seize the spear and keep it.
The Bechuanas have one weapon which is very effective at close quar-
ters. This is the battle-axe. Various as are the shapes of the heads,
they are all made on one principle, and, in fact, an axe is nothing more
than an enlarged spearhead fixed transversely on the handle. The ordi-
nary battle-axes have their heads fastened to wooden handles, but the
best examples have the handles made of rhinoceros horn.
Dr. Livingstone was greatly interested in these barbarous people. He
studied their customs, their domestic life, their warfare, their traditions,
their very thoughts. By a long residence among them he became thor-
oughly acquainted with everything of interest pertaining to them. The
wild life of Africa did not daunt our renowned explorer; he had gone to
the Dark Continent knowing how dark it was. To Livingstone belongs
the credit of carrying the light of knowledge and religion to this remark-
Of religion the Bechuanans knew nothing, though they have plenty of
superstition, and are as utter slaves to their witch doctors as can well be
conceived. The life of one of these personages is full of danger. He
practises his arts with the full knowledge that if he should fail, death is
nearly certain fo be the result. Indeed, it is very seldom that a witch
doctor, especially if he should happen to be also a rain-maker, dies a
natural death- he generally falling a victim to the clubs of his quondam
These men evidently practice the art of conjuring, as we understand
the word; and they can perform their tricks with great dexterity. One
of these men exhibited several of his performances to Mr. Baines, the
well-known traveller, and displayed no small ingenuity in the magic art.
Hie first trick was to empty, or to appear to empty, a skin bag and an
old hat, and then to shake the bag over the hat, when a piece of meat or
hide fell from the former into the latter. Another performance was to
tie up a bead necklace in a wisp of grass, and hand it to one of the
white spectators to burn. He then passed the bag to the most incredu-
lous of the spectators, allowed him to feel it and prove that it was empty,
while the hat was being examined by Mr. Baines and a friend. Calling
out to the holder of the bag, he pretended to throw something through
the air, and, when the bag was duly shaken, out fell the beads into
This was really a clever trick, and, though any reader who has some
practical acquaintance with the art of legerdemain can see how it was
done, it is not a little surprising to see such dexterity possessed by a sav-
age. The success of this trick was the more remarkable because the
holder of the bag had rather unfairly tried to balk the performer.
Tlie Conjurer Exposed.
On a subsequent occasion, however, the conjurer attempted the same
trick, varjn'ng it by requesting the beads should be broken instead of
burned. The holder of the beads took the precaution of marking them
with ink before breaking them, and in consequence all the drumming of
the conjurer could not reproduce them until after dark, when another
string of beads, precisely similar in appearance, was found under the
wagon. Being pressed on the subject, the conjurer admitted that they
were not the same beads, but said that they had been sent supernaturally
to replace those which had been broken.
The same operator was tolerably clever at tricks with cord, but had to
confess that a nautical education conferred advantages in that respect to
which his supernatural powers were obliged to yield. He once invited
Mr. Baines to see him exhibit his skill in the evening. A circle of girls
and women now surrounded the wizard, and commenced a pleasing but
monotonous chant, clapping their hands in unison, while he, seated alter-
nately on a carved stool and on a slender piece of reed covered with a
skin to prevent its hurting him, kept time for the hand-clapping, and
seemed trying to work himself up to the required state of inspiration, till
his whole flesh quivered like that of a person in the ague.
A few preparatory anointings of the joints of all his limbs, his breast
and forehead, as well as those of his choristers, followed ; shrill whistlings
were interchanged with spasmodic gestures, and now it was found that the
exhibition of the evening was a bona fide medical operation on the person
of a man who lay covered with skins outside of the circle. The posterior
portion of the thigh was chosen for scarification, but as the fire gave no
light in that direction, and the doctor and the relatives liked no one to
touch the patient, no one could ascertain how deep the incisions were made.
Most probably, from the scars seen of former operations of the kind, they
were merely deep enough to draw blood.
Curing a Sick Man.
The singing and hand-clapping now grew more vehement, the doctor
threw himself upon the patient, perhaps sucked the wound, at all events
pretended to inhale the disease. Strong convulsions seized him, and, as
he was a man of powerful frame, it required no little strength to hold him.
At length, with upturned eyes and face expressive of suffocation, he seized
his knife, and, thrusting it into his mouth, took out a large piece appar-
ently of hide and flesh, which his admiring audience supposed him to
have previously drawn from the body of the patient, thus removing the
c:ause of the disease.
Sometimes the Bechuana doctor uses a sort of dice, if such a term
may be used when speaking of objects totally unlike the dice which are
used in this country. In form they are pyramidal, and are cut from the
cloven hoof of a small antelope. These articles do not look very valuable,
but they are held in the highest estimation, inasmuch as very few know
how to prepare them, and they are handed down from father to son
through successive generations. The older they are, the more powerful
are they supposed to be, and a man who is fortunate enough to possess
tliem can scarcely be induced to part with them.
These magic dice are used when the proprietor wishes to know the
result of some undertaking. He smooths a piece of ground with his
hand, holds the dice between his fingers, moves his hands up and down
several times, and then allows them to fall. He then scans them care-
fully, and judges from their position what they fortell. The characters
or figures described on the surface have evidently some meaning, but
what their signification was the former possessor either did not know, or
did not choose to communicate.
A Charm for the Neck.
The children, when they first begin to trouble themselves and their
parents by the process of teething, are often furnished with a kind of
amulet. It is made of a large African beetle. A number of them are
killed, dried, and then strung on leathern thongs, so as to be worn round
the neck. These objects have been mistaken for whistles. The Bechu-
anas have great faith in their powers when used for teething, and think
that they are efficacious in preventing various infantile disorders.
Like the Kaffirs, the Bechuanas make use of certain religious cere-
monies before they go to war. One of these rites consists of laying a
charm on the cattle, so that they shall not be seized by the enemy. The
oxen are brought singly to the priest, if we may so call him, who is
furnished with a pot of black paint, and a jackal's tail by way of a brush.
With this primitive brush he makes a certain mark upon the hind leg of
the animal, while at the same time an assistant, who kneels behind him,
repeats the mark in miniature upon his back or arms. To this ceremony
they attribute great value; and, as war is almost invariably made for the
sake of cattle, the Bechuanas may well be excused for employing any
rite which they fancy will protect such valued possessions.
Among one branch of the Bechuana tribe, a very remarkable ceremony
is observed when the boys seek to be admitted into the rank of men.
The details are kept very secret, but a few of the particulars have been;
discovered. Dr. Livingstone, for example, happened once to witness the
second stage of the ceremonies, which last for a considerable time.
A number of boys, about fourteen years of age, without a vestige of
clothing, stood in a row, and opposite those was an equal number of men,
each having in his hand a long switch cut from a bush belonging to the
genus Grewia, and called in the native language moretloa. The twigs of
this bush are very strong, tough, and supple. Both the men and boys
were engaged in an odd kind of dance, called "koha," which the men
evidently enjoyed, and the boys had to look as if they enjoyed it too. .
Each boy was furnished with a pair of the ordinary hide sandals, which ,
he wore on his hands instead of his feet. At stated intervals, the men
put certain questions to the boys, respecting their future life work,
admitted into the society of men.
For example, the youth is tried in some such way as the following:
"Will you herd the cattle well? " asks the man.
"I will," answers the boy, at the same time lifting his sandalled hands,
over his head. The man then leaps forward, and with his full force
strikes at the boy's head. The blow is received on the uplifted sandals,
but the elasticity of the long switch causes it to curl over the boy's head
with such force that a deep gash is made in his back, some twelve or,
eighteen inches in length, from which the blood spirts as if it were made,
with a knife. Ever afterward, the lesson that he is to guard the cattle,
is supposed to be indelibly impressed on the boy's mind.
Then comes another question, " Will you guard the chief well? "
" I will," replies the boy, and another stroke impresses that lesson on,
the boy's mind. And thus they proceed, until the whole series of ques-
tions has been asked and properly answered. The worst part of the.
proceeding is, that the boys are obliged, under penalty of rejection, to
continue their dance, to look pleased and happy, and not to wince at the
terrible strokes which cover their bodies with blood, and seam their,
backs with scars that last throughout their lifetime. Painful as this ordeal
must be, the reader must not think that it is nearly so formidable to the;
Bechuanas as it would be to Americans. In the first place, the nervous,
system of a white man is far more sensitive than that of South African,
natives, and injuries which would lay him prostrate have but little effect
upon them. Moreover, their skin, from constant exposure to the ele-
ments, is singularly insensible, so that the stripes do not inflict a tenth
part of the pain that they would if suffered by a white person.
Only the older men are allowed to take part in this mode of instruc--
tion of the boys, and if any man should attempt it who is not qualified
he is unpleasantly reminded of his presumption by receiving on his own
back the stripes which he intended to inflict on the boys, the old men
being in such a case simultaneously judges and executioners. No eleva-
tion of rank will allow a man to thus transgress with impunity ; and on
one occasion, Sekomi himself, the chief of the tribe, received a severe
blow on the leg from one of his own people. This kind of ordeal, called
the Sechu, is only practised am9ng three tribes, one of which is the Ba-
mangwato, of which Sekomi was the chief.
It takes place every six or seven years, so that a large number of boys
are collected. These are divided into bands, each of which is under the
command of one of the sons of the chief, and each member is supposed
to be a companion of his leader for life. They are taken into the woods
by the old men, where they reside for some time, and where, to judge
from their scarred and seamed backs, their residence does not appear to
be of the most agreeable description. When they have passed through
the different stages of the boguera, each band becomes a regiment or
"mopato," and goes by its own name.
According to Dr. Livingstone, they recognize a sort of equality and
partial communion afterward, and address each other by the name of
Molekane, or comrade. In cases of offence against their rules, as eating
alone when any of their comrades are within call, or in cases of derelic-
tion of duty, they may strike one another, or any member of a younger
mopato, but never one of an older band ; and, when three or four com-
panies have been made, the oldest no longer takes the field in time of
war, but remains as a guard over the women and children. When a
fugitive comes to a tribe, he is directed to the mopato analogous to that
to which in his own tribe he belongs, and does duty as a member.
The girls have to pass an ordeal of a somewhat similar character be-
fore they are admitted among the women, and can hope to attain the
summit of an African girl's hopes, namely, to be married. If possible,
the details of the ceremony are kept even more strictly secret than is the
case with the boys, but a part of it necessarily takes place in public, and
is therefore well known.
How African Girls are Toughened
The girls are commanded by an old and experienced woman, always a
stern and determined personage, who carries them off into the woods,
and there instructs them in all the many arts which they will have to
practise when married. Clad in a strange costume, composed of ropes
of melon-seeds and bits of quill, the ropes being passed over both
shoulders and across their bodies in a figure-of-eight position, they are
drilled into walking with large pots of water on their heads. Wells are
purposely chosen which are at a considerable distance, in order to inure
the girls to fatigue, and the monitress always chooses the most inclement
days for sending them to the greatest distance. They have to carry
heavy loads of wood, to handle agricultural tools, to build houses, and,
in fact, to practise before marriage those tasks which are sure to fall to
their lot afterward.
Capability of enduring pain is also insisted upon, and the monitress
tests their powers by scorching their arms with burning charcoal. Of
course, all these severe labors require that the hands should be hard and
horny, and accordingly the last test which the girls have to endure is
holding in the hand for a certain time a piece of hot iron.
Rough and rude as this school of instruction may be, its purport is
judicious enough; inasmuch as when the girls are married, and enter
upon their new duties, they do so with a full and practical knowledge of
them, and so escape the punishment which they would assuredly receive
if they were to fail in their tasks. The name of the ceremony is called
"Bogale." During the time that it lasts, the girls enjoy several privi-
leges, one of which is highly prized. If a boy who has not passed
through his ordeal should come in their way, he is at once pounced upon
and held down by some, while others bring a supply of thorn-branches,
and beat him seveMy with this unpleasant rod. Should they be in suffi-
cient numbers, they are not very particular whether the trespasser be
protected by the boguera or not; and instances have been known when
they have captured adult men, and disciplined them so severely that they
bore the scars ever afterward.
Uncleanly Mode of Eating,
In their feeding they are not particularly cleanly, turning meat about
on the fire with their fingers, and then rubbing their hands on their
bodies, for the sake of the fat which adheres to them. Boiling, however,
is the usual mode of cooking and when eating it they place a lump of
meat in the mouth, seize it with the teeth, hold it in the left hand so as
to stretch it as far as possible, and then with a neat upward stroke of a
knife or spear-head, cut off the required morsel. This odd mode of eat-
ing meat may be found among the Abyssinians and the Esquimaux, and
in each case it is a marvel how the men avoid cutting off their noses.
The following is a description of one of the milk bags: It is made
from the skin of some large animal, such as an ox or a zebra, and is
rather more than two feet in length and one in width. It is formed from
a tough piece of hide, which is cut to the proper shape and then turned
over and sewed, the seams being particularly firm and strong. The hide
of the quagga is said to be the best, as it gives to the milk a peculiar
flavor, which is admired, by the natives.
The skin is taken from the back of the animal, that being the strongest
part. It is first stretched on the ground with wooden pegs, and the hair
-scraped off with an adze. It is then cut to the proper shape, and
soaked in water until soft enough to be worked. Even with care,
these bags are rather perishable articles; and when used for water,
they do not last so long as when they are employed for milk.
A rather large opening is left at the top, and a small one at the bottom,
both of which are closed by conical plugs. ' Through the upper orifice
the milk is poured into the bag in a fresh state, and removed when
coagulated; and through the lower aperture the whey is drawn off as
v/anted. As is the case with the Kaffir milk baskets, the Bechuana milk
bags are never cleaned, a small amount of sour milk being always left in
them, so as to aid in coagulating the milk, which the natives never drink
in a fresh state.
When traveling, the Bechuanas hang their milk bags on the backs of
oxen ; and it sometimes happens that the jolting of the oxen, and con-
sequent shaking of the bag, causes the milk to be partially churned, so-
that small pieces of butter are found floating in it. The butter is very
highly valued ; but it is not eaten, being reserved for the more important
office of greasing the hair or skin.
The spoons which the Bechuanas use are often carved in the most
elaborate manner. In general shape they resemble those used by the
Kaffirs who, by the way, sometimes purchase better articles from the
Bechuanas but the under surface of the bowl is entirely covered with,
designs, which are always effective, and in many cases are absolutely
artistic from the boldness and simplicity of the designs. Livingstone had
some spoons, in all of which the surface had first been charred and pol-
ished, and then the pattern cut rather deeply, so as to leave yellowish-
white lines in bold contrast with the jetty black of the uncut portion-
Sometimes it happens that, when they are traveling, and have no spoons
with them, the Bechuanas rapidly scoop up their broth in the right hand,
throw it into the palm o:^ the left, and then fling it into the mouth,,
taking care to lick the hands clean after the operation.
Music and Dancing.
Music is practised by the Bechuana tribes, who do not use the goura,
but merely employ a kind of reed pipe. The tunes that are played upon
this instrument are of a severely simple character, being limited to a
single note, repeated as often as the performer chooses to play it. A
very good imitation of Bechuanan instrumental music may be obtained
by taking a penny whistle, and blowing it at intervals. In default of a
whistle, a key will do quite as well. Vocal music is known better among
the Bechuanas than among most other tribes or, at all events, is not
so utterly opposed to American ideas of the art. The melody is simple
enough, consisting chiefly of descending and ascending by thirds ; and
they have a sufficient appreciation of harmony to sing in two parts with-
out producing the continuous discords which delight the soul of the
These reed pipes, called "lichaka," are of various lengths, and are
blown exactly like Pandean pipes, that is, transversely across the orifice,
which is cut with a slight slope. Each individual has one pipe only, and,
as above stated, can only play one note. But the Bechuanas have enough
musical ear to tune their pipes to any required note, which they do by
pushing or withdrawing a movable plug which closes the reed at the
When a number of men assemble for the purpose of singing and danc-
ing, they tune their pipes beforehand, taking great pains in getting the
precise note which they want, and being as careful about it as if they be-
longed to an American orchestra. The general effect of these pipes,
played together, and with certain intervals, is by no means inharmonious,
and has been rather happily compared to the sound of sleigh or wagon
bells. The correct method of holding the pipe is to place the thumb
against the cheek, and the forefinger over the upper lip, while the other
three fingers hold the instrument firmly in its place. These little instru-
ments run through a scale of some eleven or twelve notes.
The dances of the Bechuanas are somewhat similar to those of the
Amakosa and other Kaffirs ; but they have the peculiarity of using a
rather remarkable headdress when they are in full ceremonial costume.
This is made from porcupine quills arranged in a bold and artistic man-
ner, so as to form a kind of coronet. None of the stiff and short quills
of the porcupine are used for this purpose, but only the long and slender
quills which adorn the neck of the animal, and, in consequence of their
great proportionate length, bend over the back in graceful curves.
These headdresses are worn by the men, who move themselves about so
as to cause the pliant quills to wave backward and forward, and so con-
trive to produce a really graceful effect. The headdress is not considered
an essential part of the dance, but is used on special occasions.
When dancing, they arrange themselves in a ring, all looking inward,
but without troubling themselves about their number or any particular
arrangement. The size of the ring depends entirely upon the number of
dancers, as they press closely together. Each is at liberty to use any step
which he may think proper to invent, and to blow his reed pipe at any
intervals that may seem most agreeable to him. But each man contrives
to move very slowly in a slanting direction, so that the whole ring re-
volves on the same spot, making, on an average, one revolution per
The direction in which it moves seems perfectly indifferent, as at one
time it will revolve from right to left, and then, without any apparent rea-
son, the motion is reversed. Dancers enter and leave the ring just as
they feel inclined, some of the elders only taking part in the dance for a
few minutes, and others dancing for hours in succession, merely retiring
occasionally to rest their wearied limbs. The dancers scarcely speak at
all when engaged in this absorbing amusement, though they accompany
their reed whistles with native songs. Round the dancers is an external
ring of women and girls, who follow them as they revolve, and keep time
to their movements by clapping their hands.
Substitute for Handkerchief.
As is usual in this country, a vast amount of exertion is used in the
dance, and, as a necessary consequence, the dancers are bathed in per-
spiration, and further inconvenienced by the melting of the grease with
which their heads and bodies are thickly covered. A handkerchief would
be the natural resort of an American under such circumstances; but the
native of Southern Africa does not possess such an article, and therefore
is obliged to make use of an implement which seems rather ill adapted
for its purpose. It is made from the bushy tail of jackals, and is prepared
as follows: The tails are removed from the animals, and, while they are
yet fresh, the skin is stripped from the bones, leaving a hollow tube of
fur-clad skin. Three or four of these tails are thus prepared, and through
them is thrust a stick, generally about four feet in length, so that .the tail
forms a sort of long and very soft brush.
This is used as a handkerchief, not only by the Bechuanas, but by many
of the neighboring tribes, aiid is thought a necessary part of a Bechuana's
wardrobe. The stick on which they are fixed is cut from the very heart
of the kameel-dorn acacia, where the wood is peculiarly hard and black,
and a very great amount of labor is expended on its manufacture. A
chief will sometimes have a far more valuable implement, which he uses
for the same purpose. Instead of being made of mere jackal tails, it is
formed from ostrich feathers.
The remarkable excellence of the Bechuanas in the arts of peace should
be noticed. They are not only the best fur-dressers and metal-workers,
but they are pre-eminent among all the tribes of that portion of Africa in
their architecture. Not being a nomad people, and being attached to the
soil, they have no idea of contenting themselves with the mat-covered
cages of the Hottentots, or with the simple wattle-and-daub huts of the
Kaffirs. They do not merely build huts, but erect houses, and display
an ingenuity in their construction that is perfectly astonishing. Whence
they derived their architectural knowledge, no one knows. Why the
Kaffirs, who are also men of the soil, should not have learned from their
neighbors how to build better houses, no one can tell. The fact remains,
that the Bechuana is simply supreme in architecture, and there is no
neighboring tribe that is even worthy to be ranked in the second class.
The house of Dingan, the great Kaffir despot, was exactly like that of
any of his subjects, only larger, and the supporting posts covered with
beads. Now a Bechuana of very moderate rank would be ashamed of
such an edifice by way of a residence ; and even the poor if we may use
the word can build houses for themselves quite as good as that of
Dingan. Instead of being round-topped, as is the case with the Kaffir
huts, the houses of the Bechuanas are conical, and the shape may be
roughly defined by saying that a Bechuana's hut looks something like a
huge whipping-top with its point upward. It resembles the curious houses
built by that marvellous insect, the white ant, itself one of the wonders
of the Tropics.
A man of moderate rank makes his house in the following manner
or, rather, orders his wives to build it for him, the women being the only
architects. First, a number of posts are cut from the kameel-dorn acacia-
tree, their length varying according to the office which they have to fulfil.
Supposing, for example, that the house had to be sixteen or twenty feet
in diameter, some ten or twelve posts are needed, which will be about
nine feet in height when planted in the ground. These are placed in a
circle and firmly fixed at tolerably equal distances. Next comes a smaller
circle of much smaller posts, which, when fixed in the ground, measure,
from fifteen to eighteen feet in height, one of them being longer than the
rest. Both the circles of posts are connected with beams which are
fastened to their tops.
The next process is to lay a sufficient quantity of rafters on these posts,
so that they all meet at one point, and these are tightly lashed together.
This point is seldom in the exact centre, so that the hut always looks
rather lop-sided. A roof made of reeds is then placed upon the rafters,
and the skeleton of the house is complete. The thatch is held in its
place by a number of long and thin twigs, which are bent, and the end
thrust into the thatch. These twigs are set in parallel rows, and hold the
thatch firmly together. The slope of the roof is rather slight, and is
always that of a depressed cone, but it is sufficient to carry off the water
and keep the interior dry.
Singular Walls for Houses.
Now come the walls. The posts which form the outer circle are con-
nected with a wall sometimes about six feet high, but frequently only two
feet or so. But the wall which connects the inner circle is eight or ten
feet in height, and sometimes reaches nearly to the roof of the house.
These walls are generally made of the mimosa thorns, which are so inge-
niously woven that the garments of those who pass by are in no danger,
while they effectually prevent even the smallest animal from creeping
through. The inside of the wall is strengthened as well as smoothed by
a thick coating of clay. The family live in the central compartment of
the house, while the servants inhabit the other portion, which also serves
as a verandah in which the family can sit in the daytime, and enjoy the
double benefit of fresh air and shade.
Around this house is a tolerably high paling, made in a similar fashion
of posts and thorns, and within this enclosure the cattle are kept, when
their owner is rich enough to build an enclosure for their especial use.
This fence, or wall, as it may properly be called, is always very firmly
built, and sometimes is of very strong construction. It is on an average
six feet high, and is about two feet and a half wide at the bottom, and a
foot or less at the top. It is made almost entirely of small twigs and
branches, placed upright, and nearly parallel with each other, but so
iirmly interlaced that they form an admirable defence against the assagai,
while near the bottorn the wall is so strong as to stop an ordinary bullet.
A few inches from the top the wall is strengthened by a double band
of twigs, one band being outside, and the other in the interior.
Protection Against Fire.
The doorways of a Buchuana hut are rather curiously constructed.
An aperture is made in the wall, larger above than below, so as to suit
the shape of a human being, whose shoulders are wider than his feet.
This formation serves two purposes. In the first place it lessens the size
of the aperture, and so diminishes the amount of the draught, and, in the
next place, it forms a better defence against an adversary than if it were
of larger size, and reaching to the ground.
The fireplace is situated outside the hut, though within the fence, the
13echuanas having a very wholesome dread of fire, and being naturally
anxious that their elaborately built houses should not be burnt down.
Outside the house, but within the enclosure, is the corn-house. This is a
smaller hut, constructed in much the same manner as the dwelling-house,
and containing the supply of corn. This is kept in jars, one of which is
of prodigious size, and would quite throw into the shade the celebrated
oil jars in which the "Forty Thieves " hid themselves. There is also a
separate house in which the servants sleep.
This corn jar is made of twigs plaited and woven into form, and
strengthened by sticks thrust into the ground, so that it is irremovable,
even if its huge dimensions did not answer that purpose. The jar is
plastered both on the outside and the interior with clay, so that it forms
an admirable protection for the corn. These jars are sometimes six feet
in height and three in width, and their shape almost exactly resembles
that of the oil jars of Europe, The best specimens are raised six or seven
inches from the ground, the stakes which form their scaffolding answer-
ing the purpose of legs. Every house has one such jar and in the
abode of wealthy persons there is generally one large jar and a number
of smaller ones, all packed.
Curious Burial Customs.
The burial of the dead is conducted after a rather curious manner.
The funeral ceremonies actually begin before the sick person is dead^
and must have the effect of hastening dissolution. As soon as the rela-
tions of the sick man see that his end is near, they throw over him a
mat, or sometimes a skin, and draw it together until the enclosed indi-
vidual is forced into a sitting, or rather a crouching posture, with the
arms bent, the head bowed, and the knees brought into contact with the
chin. In this uncomfortable position the last spark of life soon expires,
and the actual funeral begins.
The relatives dig a grave, generally within the cattle fence, not shaped
as is the case in our own country, but a mere round hole, about three
feet in diameter. The interior of this strangely shaped grave is then
rubbed with a bulbous root. An opening is then made in the fence
surrounding the house, and the body is carried through it, still enveloped
in the mat, and with a skin thrown over the head. It is then lowered
into the grave, and great pains are taken to place it exactly facing the
north, an operation which* consumes much time, but which is achieved at
last with tolerable accuracy.
When they have settled this point to their satisfaction, they bring
fragments of an anthill, wigch is the best and finest clay that can be pro-
duced, and lay it carefully about the feet of the corpse, over which it is
pressed by two men who stand in the grave for that purpose. More and
more clay is handed down in wooden bowls, and stamped firmly down,
the operators raising the mat in proportion as the earth rises. They take
particular care that not even the smallest pebble shall mix with the earth
that surrounds the body, and, as the clay is quite free from stones, it is
the fittest material for their purpose.
How Chiefs are Buried.
As soon as the earth reaches the mouth, a branch of acacia is placed
in the grave, and some roots of grass laid on the head, so that part of the
grass projects above the level of the ground. The excavated soil is then
scooped up so as to make a small mound, over which is poured several
bowlfuls of water, the spectators meanwhile shouting out, "Pula ! Pula ! "
as they do when applauding a speaker in parliament. The weapons and
implements of the deceased are then brought to the grave, and presented
to him, but they are not left there, as is the case with some tribes. The
ceremony ends by the whole party leaving the ground, amid the lamenta-
tions of the women, who keep up a continual wailing cry.
These are the full ceremonials that take place at the death of a chief
at all events, a man of some importance, but they vary much according
to the rank of the individual. Sometimes a rain-maker has forbidden all
sepulchral rites whatever, as interfering with the production of rain, and
during the time of this interdict every corpse is dragged into the bush to
be consumed by the hyaenas. Even the very touch of a dead body is for-
bidden, and, under this strange tyranny, a son has been seen to fling a
leathern rope round the leg of his dead mother, drag her body into the bush,
and there leave it, throwing down the rope and abandoning it, because it
had been defiled by the contact of a dead body, and he might happen to
touch the part that had touched the corpse.
Almost every African tribe has burial customs peculiar to itself Some
of the most remarkable of these are met with among the Latookas :
Funeral ceremonies differ among the Latookas according to the mode
of death. If a man is killed in battle, the body is not touched, but is
allowed to remain on the spot where it fell, to be eaten by the hyaenas
and the vultures. But should a Latooka, whether man, woman or child,
die a natural death, the body is disposed of in a rather singular manner.
Immediately after death, a shallow grave is dug in the enclosure that sur-
rounds each house, and within a few feet of the door. It is allowed to re-
main here for several weeks, when decomposition is usually completed.
It is then dug up, the bon^s are cleaned and washed, and are then placed
in an earthenware jar, and carried about a quarter of a mile outside the
Horrible Treatment of Human Remains.
No particular sanctity attaches itself either to the bones or the spot on
which they are deposited. The earthen jars are broken in course of time
and the bones scattered about, but no one takes any notice of them. In
consequence of this custom the neighborhood of a large town presents a
most singular arid rather dismal aspect, the ground being covered with
bones, skulls, and earthenware jars in various states of preservation and,
indeed, the traveler always knows when he is approaching a Latooka
town by coming across a quantity of neglected human remains.
The Latookas have not the least idea why they treat their dead in this
singular manner, nor why they make so strange a distinction between the
bodies of warriors who have died the death of the brave and those who
liave simply died from disease, accident, or decay. Perhaps there is no
other country where the body of the dead warrior is left to the beasts
and birds, while those who die natural deaths are so elaborately buried,
exhumed, and placed in the public cemetery. Why they do so they do
not seem either to know or to care, and, as far as has been ascertained,
this is one of the many customs which has survived long after those who
practise it have forgotten its signification.
During the three or four weeks that elapse between the interment and
exhumation of the body funeral dances are performed. Great numbers
of both sexes take part in these dances, for which they decorate them-
selves in a very singular manner. Their hair helmets are supplemented
by great plumes of ostrich feathers, each man wearing as many as
he can manage to fasten on his head, and skins of the leopard or
monkey are hung from their shoulders. The chief adornment, how-
ever, is a large iron bell, which is fastened to the small of the back,
and which is sounded by wriggling the body after a very ludicrous
A large crowd got up in this style created an indescribable hubbub
heightened by the blowing of horns and the beating of seven nogaras of
various notes. Every dancer wore an antelope's horn suspended round
the neck, which he blew occasionally in the height of his excitement.
These instruments produced a sound partaking of the braying of a don-
key and the screech of an owl. Crowds of men rushed round and round,
brandishing their arms and iron-headed maces, and keeping tolerably in
line five or six deep, following the leader, who headed them, dancing
The women kept outside the hne, dancing a slow, stupid step, while a
long string of young girls and small children, their heads and necks rub-
bed with red ochre and grease, and prettily ornamented with strings of
beads round their loins, keep a very good line, beating time with their
feet, and jingling the numerous iron rings which adorned their ankles to
keep time to the drums.
One woman attended upon the men, running through the crowd with
a gourdful of wood-ashes, handfuls of which she showered over their
heads, powdering them like millers : the object of the operation no one
could understand. The premiere danseuse was immensely fat ; she had
passed the bloom of youth, but despite her unwieldy state, she kept up
the pace to the last, quite unconscious of her general appearance, and ab-
sorbed with the excitement of the dance.
These strange dances form a part of every funeral, and so, when sev-
eral persons have died successively, the funeral dances go on for several
months together. The chief Commoro was remarkable for his agility in
the funeral dances, and took his part in every such ceremony, no matter
whether it were lor a wealthy or a poor man, every one who dies being
equally entitled to the funeral dance without any distinction of rank or
The bells which are so often mentioned in those tribes inhabiting:
Central Africa are mostly made on one principle, though not on precisely
the same pattern. These simple bells evidently derive their origin from
the shells of certain nuts, or other hard fruits, which, when suspended,
and a wooden clapper hung within them, can produce a sound of some
The next advance is evidently the carving the bell out of some hard
wood, so as to increase its size and add to the power of its sound.
Next the superior resonance of iron became apparent, and little bells
were made, shaped exactly like the before-mentioned nuts. This point
once obtained, the variety in the shape of the bells is evidently a mere
matter of caprice on the part of the maker.
A CELEBRATED AFRICAN TRIBE.
Continued at 6099_04