Mr Warner’s Notes



For convenience, Kafir Laws may perhaps be divided into Criminal and Civil, as with us; but then the cases classed under these two heads will be a very different classification from ours.

Criminal Cases will comprise such only as are prosecuted by the chiefs themselves, and the fines for which are claimed by them as their inalienable right; and which fines are denominated "izizi." Such cases are probably all included under the heads of National Offences, all crimes of a political nature, breaches of the peace, charges of sorcery, &c., and crimes against the persons of individuals.

All other cases will come under the head of Civil Cases. These are prosecuted by the plaintiffs, and the fines, or compensation, are always awarded to, and claimed of right by them; and the chiefs have no right or claim to any part thereof. But if the plaintiff obtains judgment in his favour, he has to pay the "imisila," or sheriffs, employed to execute the sentence of the court, out of the fines awarded to him; and which demand generally amounts to about one third of the value of the fine. If judgment is given in favour of the defendant, there are no law expenses to pay, because, [p.56] there being no sentence to enforce, there is no occasion to employ sheriffs. The decision of the court is then simply, No case.

Kafir law, strictly speaking, recognizes no other punishment than that of fine or compensation. "Eating up," and putting individuals to death for imaginary crimes, such as sorcery, &c., are mere arbitrary acts of the chiefs. "Eating up" is, however, absolutely necessary, when a kraal or clan resists the sentence or orders of the chiefs, as he has no other means of upholding his authority and enforcing the law. The grand principle of Kafir law is collective responsibility; and on this principle depends in a very great degree, the peace and safety of society. Do away with this, while the Kafirs still continue in their present clannish and barbarous state, and they would immediately become unmanageable. Every clan is collectively responsible to the paramount chief, and every kraal is answerable for each member thereof.

The proof of innocence rests in a much greater degree with the accused than is the case with us, evidence of guilt being far more difficult to procure; for the idea of a Kafir informing or giving evidence against his neighbour, or one of his own kraal, is out of the question—unless it becomes necessary for him to do so, in order to clear himself, a friend, or the "umpakati" whose retainer he may be; neither is there any law to force him to do so.

Defendant, plaintiff, and witnesses are allowed to tell as many lies as they like, in order to make the best of their case; they have no judicial oaths; and there is consequently no punishment for perjury and it is in cross-examination, and in sifting out the truth from such [p.57] a mass of lies and misrepresentation, that the ability and cleverness of Kafir lawyers shine forth.

Plaintiff and defendant are allowed to state their case in their own way, and to produce any kind of evidence; and the court has the right to cross-examine in any manner it may think proper, and to put whatever leading questions it chooses. In fact, anything is justifiable which is done by the court with the aim of eliciting the truth; and anything is justifiable on the parts of the plaintiff and defendant, which may he done by them with a view to the bettering of their case.

The parties concerned have the right to compromise any civil case, without bringing it before either the "amapakati," or the chief; but they have no right to compound for criminal cases, as that would be robbing the chief of part of his revenue. Civil cases may be adjudicated by any "umpakati," if the parties agree to lay the case before one; but there is an appeal from such decision to the chief; and no court of "amapakati" has the power to use force to carry out its sentence, without permission from the chief. The "amapakati" however, often levy the fine for assault (which is a criminal case, and retain it for their own benefit; but this is not legal, and the chief can, at any time, demand it to be given up to him.

Kafir law is chiefly a law of precedents (for although the reigning chief has the power to make new laws, he seldom exercises this prerogative); and there appears to be no uncertainty whatever in its administration. It is very defective in many respects; yet on the whole, it is well suited to the present state and circumstances of the Kafir tribes. And although it is very desirable that it should he superseded by the introduction of a [p.58] modified form of our superior laws, yet this must be a work of time, and can only he accomplished by degrees, and as the people progress in civilization. The greatest defect of Kafir law is, that it is administered by the same parties who have the power to make new laws or alter the old ones, viz., the chiefs.

The laws, however, connected with their system of superstition, as well as many of their social and domestic customs, are highly injurious, subversive of morality, and entirely inimical to Christianity and civilization; and every effort, consistent with maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the country, ought to be made for their gradual abolition.

In conclusion I may remark that there may be slight variations in its details and administration among the different tribes; and that my notes and compendium are in accordance with Tambookie usages. Kafir law is, however, substantially the same among all the Amaxosa tribes.





Kafir law seems to make little or no distinction between wilful murder and any other kind of homicide; unless it be, perhaps, that in purely accidental homicide, the full amount of the fine may not be so rigidly insisted upon. All homicide must, however, be atoned for; the principle assumed being, that the person of individuals [p.59] are the property of the chief, and that, having been deprived of the life of a subject, he must be compensated for it. The fine for a male is seven head of cattle, and for a female ten head; the life of a female being more valuable than that of a male, on account of the obtained for her at her marriage.

Compensation for all kinds of homicide is so universally insisted upon, that should even an "igqwira," or person charged with the crime of sorcery, die under the torture to which he is always subjected, or be killed, without the sanction of the chief, the "isizi," or atonement, must be paid, unless the chief thinks proper to forego his claim, and which he sometimes does in such cases. The case is not altered in "faction fights," where, for each individual who may be killed, the fine is inflicted upon all the parties engaged; unless such fight was authorized by the paramount chief himself. And even in death occurring from natural causes, unless the chief is formally made acquainted therewith, immediately on such an event happening, the "isizi" can be demanded.

This kind of law does not at all accord with our ideas of justice; and it is one of the most defective parts of Kafir law. And yet its practical working must be good, or the Kafirs are the opposite of bloodthirsty; as the shedding of blood, except in times of war, is a rare occurrence among them.


Under this head will be included every kind of bodily injury less than death, inflicted by one individual upon another, from the most severe, down to a single blow with a stick. Nothing seems to justify one man striking [p.60] another, not even in self-defence; and both parties are generally fined, unless it be clearly proved that the assault was all on one side. The fine is from one to five or six head of cattle.


This is a crime; but it must be clearly proved, and then the fine is not more than from one to three or four head of cattle.


The procuring of abortion, although almost universally practised by all classes of females in Kafir society, is, nevertheless, a crime of considerable magnitude in the eye of the law; and when brought to the notice of the chief, a fine of four or five head of cattle is inflicted. The accomplices are equally guilty with the female herself.


These are almost entirely unknown. Indeed during a residence of twenty-five years among the Tambookies, I have only heard of one case of the kind. This was a case of sodomy. I think the fine was five head of cattle. It was considered a criminal case, and the fine was accordingly claimed by the chief.


Misdemeanours which would come under this head with us, are not punishable by Kafir law; but they have a far more powerful preventative in their superstitious fears, which teach them to dread that some supernatural evil will befall the parties committing such acts; they lose caste, as it were, and are considered in the light of sorcerers: hence, crimes are seldom committed.


Consanguineous marriages are prohibited by custom rather than by law; and if the parties are not too nearly related, and resolutely persist in their determination to marry, and if the man is prepared to pay pretty dearly for his wife, they generally succeed in gaining their point. Such cases are, however, very unfrequent.

Relationship by affinity merely, and not by blood, presents no obstacle to marriage, and a man may even marry two sisters at the same time.



This is a crime against the property of the husband, and is, as with us, a civil case. The fine is from one to three or four head of cattle, according to the rank of the husband.

If pregnancy be proved to have resulted from such illicit connection, the fine is from seven to ten head.

The child in such cases belongs to the husband, who, after receiving the fine, is bound to provide for it. Adultery is only a crime when committed by the wife. The husband has the right to cohabit with as many women as he thinks proper; provided they are not the wives of other men. A man seldom or never divorces his wife for this crime.


Seduction of virgins, and cohabiting with unmarried women and widows, are not punishable by Kafir law, neither does any disgrace attach to either sex by committing such acts. Indeed they have no name for virgin in their language, and when a girl arrives at the state of [p.62] puberty, the fact is announced by a public festival, and which is tantamount to a declaration that the girl in question is now fit for the use of man. This promiscuous intercourse of the sexes is, however, subject to certain rules and customs; but even when committed in a clandestine manner it is not punishable; nor, as I before stated, does any disgrace attach to the parties concerned.

If however, pregnancy ensues, the father or guardian of the woman can demand a fine of one head of cattle from the father of the child. The child then belongs to its father; and when it is sufficiently grown, he can claim it, by paying two or three head of cattle for bringing it up, &c. If no such fine is paid, then the child is the property of the parents or guardian of its mother.

The birth of children does not, however, so frequently follow from this kind of intercourse as one would suppose, on account of the almost universal practice of procuring abortion, as soon as it is known that pregnancy has taken place; and they have herbs which cause abortion with little or no danger to the woman herself, if administered within the first two or three months.


All kinds of theft will come under the head of civil cases. Seizing property by force on the plea of retaliation, taking the law into one’s own hands, or on any other pretence whatever, does not come under the head of stealing. Property thus seized must, however, be restored, or compensation given to its value. In all such cases, the unfortunate plaintiff has to pay the law expenses, although he seldom gets the full amount of his property restored to him. In all cases of theft of live- stock, the law allows a fine of ten for one; but the full [p.63] amount of this fine is seldom enforced in the present day, especially when the number stolen is more than one or two head.

In cases of petty thefts, the fines inflicted are very insignificant, and seldom amount to more than the value of the articles stolen.

The stealing of live-stock is the most important law case in Kafirland; and the following are the principal points to be attended to:

If the property is recovered uninjured, no fine is paid; and if part of the property is restored uninjured, the thief is only fined for the missing or injured part. The custom of demanding payment for the "spoor," where colonial property is concerned, although it may be restored uninjured, has been introduced by the Colonial Government, and agreed to by the chiefs; and it is of the utmost importance that it should be continued. And, if possible, it should also be introduced in cases of Kafir versus Kafir, among those tribes which are under our control.

The custom of handing the "spoor" over to the first kraal, and expecting them to pass it on to the next, &c., is also an innovation introduced by the colonists; but which appears to be absolutely necessary; otherwise colonial property would never be recovered, as no kraal, or clan, would ever give information respecting, or assist in recovering, the "white man's" property, were they not obliged to do so; and it is only carrying out their own principle of "collective responsibility." Among themselves, the owners of the stolen property have to follow the "spoor," whithersoever it goes; and the only assistance they can demand from others is, that when it approaches within a short distance of a kraal, say five [p.64] or six hundred yards, they inform the people of the said kraal of the "spoor," and they are bound to assist in passing it on beyond their kraal, to about the same distance as above mentioned; when they return, and the owners proceed on alone. If the people of a kraal refuse to assist in tracing the "spoor" past their kraal in the manner described, and the owners cannot succeed in tracing it any farther, they are then considered as the guilty party, and the charge of the theft is at once laid against them. Making the kraal nearest to which the "spoor" has been obliterated pay for the theft, without any other proof of their guilt, is another necessary innovation of ours, arising out of the beforementioned disinclination of the Kafir to give information against the stealer of colonial property. Among themselves, in order to establish a case against a kraal, the "spoor" must be traced to within its precincts at least; and even then every exertion must be made by the owners of the stolen property, in conjunction with the people of the said kraal, to pass it on. And even when unsuccessful in doing this, it is very desirable that some additional proof of guilt should be obtained, as the chiefs frequently throw out cases, where there is no other proof of guilt than that the "spoor" was traced on to the kraal. The simple fact of the "spoor" having been obliterated by cattle is not of itself sufficient to establish a case against the owners of such cattle; although we have made it so in cases where colonial property is concerned.

Concealing a theft is no crime; but assisting to commit one is. Neither is it a crime simply to partake of the flesh of a stolen beast, knowing it to be such, unless the parties are in some way connected with the theft as accomplices.


In cases of theft (or indeed of any other crimes to which the principle of collective responsibility is applicable) it is not necessary to identify the thief; nor is it necessary that he should be produced, or even known. It is sufficient if a case has been clearly established against a kraal.


Kafir law requires that all wilful injury to property be compensated for to the full value of the property injured. If you set fire to the grass, and accident to person or property is occasioned thereby, the law will require you to make compensation for the injury done. If your dogs injure person or property, and you did not exert yourself to prevent it, when you might have done so, a case lies against you. But the law does not appear to demand compensation for what is clearly proved to have been a purely accidental injury to properly; although it will do so in accidental injuries to the person of individuals, if the injury is of a serious nature; as the latter would come under the head of criminal cases, and therefore could only be overlooked, or the fine remitted, by the chief himself.

Trespass or injury done to cultivated lands or standing crops by live stock is not actionable; but as the women, who have the charge of the cultivated fields, have the right, sanctioned by immemorial custom, to drive cattle thus trespassing into the fields of their owners, trespasses of this kind are not of frequent occurrence. This singular custom is, I believe, the only instance in which Kafir law justifies, or rather allows of, retaliation.

To make use of fallow lands originally brought under cultivation by another, if the owner has abandoned [p.66] them, is not a trespass, and is a very common practice; but should the original cultivator return and claim them, they must be given up to him when the crops have been reaped.


Marriage among the Kafirs has degenerated into slavery, and is simply the purchase of as many women by one man as he desires, or can afford to pay for.

The price or dowry paid for a wife is left very indefinite. It is not all paid at the time of marriage, but by degrees; and the husband appears to be for a long time liable to fresh demands for cattle, under some pretext or other. Ten head is, however, the ordinary price among the commonalty; but twenty or thirty are frequently demanded for chiefs' daughters; and chiefs of high rank have to pay from thirty to fifty head, and even more, for their wives, when they marry the daughters of chiefs of equal, or superior, rank to their own.

The dowry or price paid for a wife, is called the "ikazi," and which name distinguishes it from the "ikebe," or price paid for the temporary use of a woman or concubine, who is called an "ishweshsve;" the name of a proper wife being "umfazi."

The payment of the "ikazi" is the legal proof of marriage, and is the only thing really necessary thereto; although dancing, feasting, &c., are generally indulged in on such occasions.

Courtship as it exists with us is unknown. Sometimes a man chooses for himself and intimates his choice through a third person to the father or guardian of the girl; but the usual way is for the friends of the girl to [p.67] consult together and select a husband for her, and to send her to the man thus chosen.

Until all demands with regard to the dowry have been satisfied, the father or guardians of the woman have a legal right to detain her in their custody, should they succeed in getting peaceable possession of her person; but they must not use force for this purpose. This singular custom is called "ukuteleka," and it leads to a vast amount of domestic misery and wickedness.

Although in theory, perhaps, the power of the husband over the wife is considered absolute in everything but taking her life, yet in reality there are many checks to his power. His own friends will interfere to prevent his indulging in any great degree of brutality towards her. If lie mutilates her, or inflicts any permanent injury on her body, the chief will demand the "isizi" or blood atonement. If also she can succeed in running away to her friends, they have a legal right to make an additional demand of cattle to those already paid for her, and to detain her until such demand has been complied with. And if a woman utterly refuses to live with her husband, on account of ill-usage, there is no law to compel her to do so; and the only remedy he has, is to demand that the dowry be refunded to him; but the law will not support him even in this, if she has borne him a family of children. Kafir husbands are not, however, generally cruel to their wives in the common sense of that word. Their wives are nevertheless mere slaves, and have all the drudgery and laborious work to perform. [p.68] If a wife dies without having borne children to her husband, the law will support him in his demand for the dowry to be returned to him; unless she has been married to him a considerable number of years.


A man may divorce his wife at pleasure, without assigning any reason for so doing. And yet divorces are not frequent among them. First, because of the great difficulty there is in recovering the dowry, even when the husband is entitled to demand it, and which he is not, if his wife has borne him children; and, secondly, because by so doing he deprives himself of her labour as his servant. Marrying another wife is therefore the more common plan adopted to humble and annoy a wife, when she is inclined to he independent and unruly.

A Kafir seldom divorces his wife for adultery; he prefers receiving the fine on such occasions, and giving her a good thrashing.

The wife also seems to have the power of divorcing her husband, according to what I have said bearing on this subject under the head of marriage. In case of a woman thus leaving her husband, if she marry again, the law will order the former dowry to be restored, although she may have borne children to her former husband. In all cases of divorce the children belong to the father, and are entirely under his control.


It may be thought that on account of the universal practice of polygamy, the law with regard to inheritance would be very confused and uncertain; but nothing can be more plain and definite.


Each wife has a separate establishment. If a man has three wives, their establishment will be thus distinguished:—The principal or great wife’s establishment will be called the "ibotwe," the next in rank will be called the "right hand," and the third in rank the "left hand house" if he has less than three wives the above principle will nevertheless be the rule or guide as far as circumstances will allow. If he has more than three, they will be attached to one or other of the three principal houses; but each of these minor houses will nevertheless have its own separate establishment.

It is usual for the husband to apportion cattle to each of the three major houses, but he seldom goes beyond this; hence the minor houses are generally dependent in this respect upon the major houses to which they are attached. The eldest son of each house inherits all the property which has been allotted by the father to that house.

If the father has neglected during his lifetime, to declare in a formal and public manner, what portion of his property he has allotted to his several establishments, he may be said to die intestate; in which case the eldest son of the "ibotwe," or principal house takes possession, as the heir at law, of the whole of his father's estate. But in this case he is bound to take charge of, and provide for, all his father’s establishments; which are, however, little burden to him, as the principal care of getting a living devolves on the women themselves.

Females can inherit nothing, but are themselves property. A married woman is the property of her husband; and when he dies she becomes the property of his heirs; nor can she marry again without their consent.


Children belong solely to their father, and the mother has no claim whatever to them under any circumstances; and when the father dies, they pass together with his other property to his heirs. The dowries of the girls are claimed by the eldest son of the house to which they belong, unless they had been otherwise disposed of by the father during his lifetime.

The eldest son of a chief's great wife inherits the chieftainship of the tribe at his father's death.

The principal property among the Kafirs is live stock. The only inheritable landed property recognized by, Kafir law is what has been brought under cultivation, together with the homestead or site of the kraal. This may be claimed from generation to generation, and can he forfeited only by committing some political crime.

Should a man have no sons, his property is inherited by his father, if still living; if not, then by his eldest brother of the same house; if there is no brother of the same mother, then the property is inherited by the eldest son of his father's great wife; in case of a failure of a male in that house, then by the eldest son of the next house in rank, and so on. In case of an entire failure of brothers, then the eldest brother of his father, born of the same mother as his father, comes in for the estate.

In case of a failure here, then his father’s eldest brother belonging to the "ibotwe," or principal house, becomes the claimant. If there is no male in this house, then the eldest brother of the next house, and so on, descending from house to house, according to their rank, until a male is found to inherit the property.

In case of an entire failure of male heirs, the estate is claimed by the chiefs, together with the dowries obtained for the orphan daughters.



When an individual obstinately refuses to obey the orders of his chief, the kraal to which he belongs is held responsible for his conduct; and the headman thereof is expected to punish him; the fine going, of course, to the chief. When a kraal, or clan, is rebellious, the custom of "eating up" is resorted to; which consists in collecting secretly an armed party, sufficiently strong, and proceeding in as stealthy a manner as possible to such kraal or clan, and seizing all their cattle, &c. If they resist, they are fired upon or assegaied without ceremony; and should any other kraals attempt to assist the rebels, they also would be eaten up. "Eating up" is the only physical force which a chief has at his command to keep his people in order; and although often abused for political purposes, it is absolutely necessary, as being the only means he has of commanding obedience to the laws.

To maintain his popularity, and cause his people willingly to assist him on such occasions, the booty is always divided among the party engaged on such service, the chief reserving only a very small portion for himself. Hence the system of "eating up" is very popular among the Kafirs; and they are always ready to turn out and assist their chief in plundering their fellow subjects, without even thinking of inquiring into the merits of the case.

The "amapakati" have the privilege of going to "busa" at the great place; that is, they go and reside on the chief's kraal for a longer or shorter period, according to their own inclinations; and while they remain there, they form the court or ministry for the [p.72] time being; during which time they enjoy many privileges. They settle all law-suits laid before the chief, and assist him with their counsel in all state affairs; and they share in all the ones which may accrue to the chief during their ministry. They are also employed as "imisila," or sheriffs, to enforce the sentence of the chief, and they receive the fees appertaining to that office. As the "amapakati" do not take their wives with them, when they thus go to "busa," women, as well as food, are provided for them by the chief. This has given rise to the outrageous and licentious custom of the "upuudhlo;" which consists in the chief sending out a number of the young men belonging to his personal staff, as a "press gang," to collect by force all the girls above the age of puberty, together with any other unmarried women they can lay hold of, and bringing them to the great place; where they are allotted to the councillors, and any other men, who may belong to the chief’s staff; and with whom they are obliged to cohabit for the time being. After a few days, they are allowed to return to their homes, and another lot is hunted up. I may mention that the "upundhlo" is not frequently resorted to, when a sufficient number of volunteers can be obtained.

Refugees are always received by the chief to whom they fly, whatever might have been the nature of the crime for which they fled from their own chief; and they are never demanded; for if they should be, they would not be given up.

When a petty chief flies with his clan from his paramount chief, he sends an ox to the chief whom he has joined, as an acknowledgment of his having become his feudatory; upon which a tract of country is allotted to him.


In times of peace, if a refugee is guilty of taking any of his neighbours' cattle with him, or if any law-suit was pending before he fled, such case may be said before the chief to whom he has fled, and who generally settles such matters impartially, although there appears to be no international law binding him to do so.

When a Kafir wishes to leave his own chief and join another, he can only do so by flying at night in the most stealthy manner, if he has any live stock; for should his intention become known, he would most certainly be "eaten up."

The paramount chief of each tribe is above all law in his own tribe; he has the power of life and death, and is supposed to do no wrong. He is, however, subject in some degree to the paramount chief of the whole nation; and who again, in his turn, is subject to some control from the united council of his feudatory chieftains.

Excepting the reigning chief; as above explained, all other members of chiefs' families are amenable to the law; although, through interest, &c.




There is no doubt that the Kafirs have a regular system of superstition which answers all the purposes of any other false religion. And, as individual Kafirs, when they make a sincere profession of Christianity, immediately forsake—even though they may not have [p.74] been requested to do so—this superstition, and refuse to conform any longer to its rites and ceremonies, so the system itself must be nationally abandoned before Christianity can be generally embraced by the Kafirs.

I fear this fact has been too much overlooked. Many missionary agents seem to suppose that the Kafirs have no system of superstition; but that their superstitions are isolated, and entirely unconnected with, and independent of each other: just as a weak-minded and ignorant person among us, believing in witchcraft, may nail a horse-shoe over the door of his house, to counteract its evil influence; while another believes that a certain form which the fat of a tallow candle sometimes assumes, and which is vulgarly called a "winding sheet," is really a death warning. I have heard Missionaries thus argue. This view of the subject, however, is a serious mistake; for it leads Missionaries who hold it to take for granted that, in preaching the Gospel to the Kafirs, they have nothing more to contend with than the ordinary darkness and corruption of the human heart, and that opposition to its spirituality which is common to all our race. Hence the style of preaching which those who take this view of the subject adopt; the subjects they select, when preaching to the pagan and infidel Kafirs, being generally such as they would choose were they addressing a congregation of nominal Christians, who, though strangers to its spirituality and saving power, do nevertheless believe in the truth of the Christian religion. And then, after years of labour, suffering and privation, on perceiving that they have almost laboured in vain, and spent their strength for nought, they despairingly exclaim, Why is it that the Gospel is comparatively powerless when [p.75] preached to the Kafirs? The answer to this question is, Because in addition to these ordinary obstacles, there is most assuredly a system of superstition to be denounced and overturned, before they can possibly embrace Christianity; and which is none the less powerfully pernicious because it has (apparently) reference to the blessings and calamities incident to this life only. Now the Kafirs are firm believers in their system of superstition, and thorough infidels with regard to Christianity. They must, therefore, by a systematic process of argumentation, be first convinced of the falsehood and absurdity of the superstition in which they trust, and of the truth and divine authority of the Christian revelation—just as is being done by the Missionaries in India and among other idolatrous nations—before any extensive good will be done among them. Otherwise there will be a danger of building Christianity on the rotten foundation of their pagan superstition, as the Roman Catholic Missionaries have done in some parts of the world. Nay, has this not already been done (though unconsciously), in some instances, among the Kafir and Fingo tribes of South Africa? It is true the Kafirs have no visible symbols by which they represent the imaginary beings whom they dread, and whom they endeavour to propitiate, as some heathen nations have; but they have, nevertheless, that which exactly answers the same purpose.

The mind of man demands something of a supernatural nature on which to rest, and in which to trust. There appears also to be a conviction, common to the whole human race, of the existence of some invisible beings, who have the power to do good to, or to injure, mankind; and there is an inherent dread of such imaginary beings, and a desire to propitiate them. Well, the Kafirs have [p.76] a system of superstition, founded on the convictions and feelings of the human mind, and just exactly adapted to that shape or form which such feelings and convictions would be likely to assume among such a benighted and degraded people.

Independently of the information they have obtained on the subject from intercourse with Europeans, they have certainly lost all vestige of the knowledge of the existence and attributes of a Supreme Being, as exhibited to us in divine revelation; nor have they the slightest knowledge of a future state of rewards and punishments arising out of the moral quality of our actions in this life. They have, however, a vague idea of the immortality of the soul; and, in fact, it is the spirits of their departed friends and ancestors whom they dread, in whom they trust, and whom they endeavour to propitiate. This is the foundation of that system of superstition whose influence is unbounded in all grades of Kafir society, and whose ramifications meet the Missionary at every step—however unconscious he may be of the fact—and present insuperable obstacles in the way of their embracing the Gospel. They have an order of priesthood among them entirely separate and distinct from all other classes of society, the great distinctive function of whose office is the faculty of being able, by means of necromancy, to detect persons guilty of sorcery.

No one can assume this function of priesthood without having first passed through a certain occult initiation called "ukutwasa;" and should a person attempt to do so, he would probably be put to death, and his property confiscated to the chief; and very likely the whole kraal to which he belonged would be "eaten up."


There are, however, a number of imitators, who have never properly passed through the initiatory rite of "ukutwasa;" all of whom pass under the general denomination of "inucibi," or "arnagqira," and seem to he allowed to perform all the other functions of priests except that of "smelling out," as before mentioned. I may also remark that females are permitted to practise as priestesses.

It is remarkable that the word used to express this state of initiation, means "renewal," and is the same that is used for the first appearance of the new moon, and for the putting forth of the grass and buds at the commencement of spring. By which it is evidently intended to intimate that the man's heart is renewed, that he has become an entirely different person to what he was before, seeing with different eyes, and hearing with different ears; in short, that he now holds communion and intercourse with the invisible world.

The rites connected with the initiation of a person into the priesthood are known only to the priests themselves. Certain wonderful things, however, befall the individual in question, which are witnessed by all. He is first seized with an unaccountable sickness or ailment, which often continues for months. While in this state, he is constantly groaning, and appears to endure a great deal of mental as well as bodily suffering. When he begins to see and hear supernatural sights and sounds. By and by, a species of insanity seizes him, and he wanders over the country and in the mountains in a very excited state, uttering certain kinds of jargon.

As soon as the real cause of his ailment is suspected by the people of his kraal, viz., that he is under the influence of the "iminyanya," or "imishologu," i.e. the [p.78] ghosts of the dead, they immediately send a formal notice thereof to the chief. Priests then proceed to investigate his case, and if they find that he is really in a state of "ukutwasa," and not guilty of imposture, they at once commence performing the initiatory rites "ukupehielela," and which are known to none but themselves.

After these rites have been performed, he is pronounced by the priests to be a perfect "isanuse," "intongo," or "igqira," and which terms I choose to translate by the word "priest," in preference to that of "doctor," the term generally employed by Europeans to designate this class of persons. And I do so, because I consider it the more correct term, they being the class of persons to whom it appertains to offer sacrifices, and to officiate in their superstitious rites; but the administering of medicines is merely an accident, and not a necessary function, of their office.

While a person is in the state above described he often becomes much excited and at such times nothing can calm him but the "ukwombela," called by the colonists the "witch dance." This at first excites and makes him more furious than ever. After a while he begins to utter unintelligible jargon sometimes he pretends to predict future events, but more commonly he declares things connected with the present time, such as the causes of sickness or other calamities under which certain persons may be suffering; and he prescribes charms and sacrifices to remedy them, after which he becomes calm.

The ceremony of "ukwonkela," is performed by beating a dry bullock hide, called the "ingqongqo," with sticks, and humming certain tunes, in which the [p.79] whole assembly joins. It is always performed when the priest is expected to exercise the functions of his office, to excite him, and to "get up the steam," if I may so express myself. The tunes thus hummed are really very exciting, and are supposed to be peculiarly grateful to the "imishologu." And the priest seems to have little or no power to prophesy, or declare the revelations he receives from the "imishologu," but under the influence of the frenzy excited by the performance of this ceremony, and which frenzy is called "ukuxentsa."

It is impossible to suppose that these priests are not, to a considerable extent, self-deceived, as well as the deceivers of others; and there is no difficulty, to one who believes the Bible to be a divine revelation, in supposing that they are also, to a certain extent, under satanic influence; for the idolatrous and heathen nations of the earth are declared, in the inspired volume, to be in a peculiar manner under the influence and power of the devil.

Each tribe has its national priest, or "intonga yakwomkulu," whose duty it is to protect the person of the chief; to avert all national calamities from the tribe; and especially to make the army strong to fight and conquer all its enemies. The power to perform all these wonderful things, they profess to derive from the "imishologu," or ghosts of the dead, as before mentioned: they are, therefore, strictly speaking, necromancers. A great many rites and ceremonies are performed, and sacrifices offered, by the priest, when occasion requires. The latter are called "amadirii." They are generally connected with the "shedding of blood," and are evidently of a propitiatory nature.


The people pay great deference to all the priests, but they yield unbounded obedience to the national priest; and to disregard his injunctions, and to neglect or refuse to conform to all the rites and ceremonies he may think proper to institute in his official capacity, as the national priest, would be considered a capital offence, and the individual guilty of it would be denounced as a sorcerer, and would probably be put to death on the spot, by the special order of the chief, without even the form of a trial. For although Kafir law recognizes no punishment but that of fine for real crimes, yet for imaginary ones, such as sorcery, &c,, individuals are often put to death: and especially for refusing to conform to such national customs, rites, and ceremonies connected with their system of superstition as may be instituted from time to time by the national priest, for the purpose of strengthening the army, or averting national calamities, the guilty party seldom escapes death. The order for execution must, however, be issued by the chief himself. It is then performed in a very summary, and often in a horribly cruel and barbarous manner. Their property is always confiscated to the chief; and generally the whole kraal to which the delinquent or delinquents belong is "eaten up." Priests are paid, when successful in curing the maladies or removing the calamities for which their services were required; otherwise not; hut as an "earnest" is always paid, and a beast generally slaughtered for their special benefit, before they commence operations, they get that much remuneration at all events.

The characteristic distinctions of a sacrifice are the following. It must be offered by a priest, except in a [p.81] few cases of ordinary domestic sacrifices, which may be performed by the head of the family. The blood must be caught in some kind of a vessel, and not spilled on the ground; and the bones must be burned.

The ceremony of "ukwombela" is always performed, and while under the excitement ("ukuxentsa") created thereby, the priest, professing to be inspired, declares that a certain beast, naming its colour, &c, must be slaughtered as a sacrifice. The beast, when slaughtered, is split down each side of the spine, and one side is taken possession of by the priest, and eaten by him and his family alone. The remainder is publicly eaten by all the people of the kraal, for whose benefit the sacrifice was made; but none of it can be carried off the kraal, or eaten in private. Strangers, however, who happen to be present at the ceremony, may partake thereof. During the process of sacrificing, as well as afterwards, certain rites and charms are performed; but the manner of performing them, as well as the nature of the charms used, are known only to the initiated.

In conclusion, I may remark that the system of pagan superstition found among the Kafirs exists, with perhaps slight modifications, among all the tribes of South Eastern Africa; and is found perhaps in its most perfect and systematic form among the Fingo tribes. Hence nearly all the more


This is the great national sacrifice and ceremony performed, when the priest makes the army invulnerable. All the men of the tribe, or as many as can attend, are assembled at the "great place." The priest names the [p.82] sacrificial beast, which is immediately caught and thrown down. The shoulder is then skinned and cut off while the wretched animal is still alive. The flesh is cut oft the shoulder, so as to form a long strip, which is roasted on the coals of a fire prepared for the purpose, into which charms of a certain kind of wood, or roots, are thrown by the priest. The flesh, when roasted, is made to pass through the smoke of these charms; after which, each man bites off one mouthful, and passes it on to the next. The priest then makes a number of incisions in different parts of their bodies, into which he inserts the powdered charcoal of the above-mentioned charms.

All this while, the poor animal has been left to writhe in excruciating agony. It is now killed, and the flesh boiled, and publicly eaten on the spot by all the men present, after which the bones are carefully burned. No female is allowed to partake of the flesh of the sacrifice.

After all the rites and ceremonies have been performed, the army is put through a number of evolutions and exercises, and then disperses.


The Kafirs have strange notions respecting the lightning. They consider that it is governed by the "umshologu," or ghost, of the greatest and most renowned of their departed chiefs; and who is emphatically styled the "inkosi;" but they are not at all clear as to which of their ancestors is intended by this designation. Hence they allow of no lamentation being made for a person killed by lightning; as they say that it would be a sign of disloyalty to lament for one whom the "inkosi" had sent for, and whose services he consequently needed; [p.83] and it would cause him to punish them, by making the lightning again to descend and do them another injury.

The above are the original views of the Kafirs respecting lightning; but since they have heard of a Supreme Being from Europeans, they have so far modified them, as that many of them now believe that the lightning descends direct from "utixo," the term used to designate the God of the "white man," but to which term, however, they originally attached no other idea than that of the "umahologu," or ghost, of their primordial chief, or original primogenitor. They, however, still rigidly adhere to all the rites connected with sacrificing to the "inkosi" of the lightning, when it strikes a kraal, man, or beast, &c., whatever idea they may attach to the term "inkosi." When the lightning kills either man or animal, a priest is sent for immediately, who, in the first place, ties a number of charms round the neck of every individual belonging to the kraal, in order that they may have power to dig the grave—for animals, as well as human beings, are always buried when struck by lightning, and the flesh is never eaten.

After the body, or carcase, as the case may be, has been buried, the sacrificial beast is killed a fire is then kindled, in which certain charms of wood, or roots, are burned to charcoal, and then ground to powder. The priest then makes incisions in various parts of the bodies of each person belonging to the kraal, and into which incisions he inserts a portion of the powdered charcoal; the remainder he puts into a quantity of sour milk, and gives each individual to drink thereof; and from the time the lightning strikes the kraal until this ceremony has been performed, the people thereof are obliged to abstain entirely from the use of milk. Their heads are [p.84] then shaved. Should a house have been struck, it must be abandoned, together with every utensil belonging to it. Until all these rites have been performed, none of the people are allowed to leave their kraal, or to have any intercourse whatever with others; but when they have been performed, they are pronounced clean, and may again associate with their neighbours. Nevertheless, certain restrictions are continued for several months; such as that none of the live stock, and a few other things belonging to the kraal, can be allowed to pass into other hands, either by way of war, gift, or sale. The priest who officiates at the ceremonies connected with this custom is always well paid, generally receiving for his services from six to ten head of cattle.


Sometimes when a person is sick, or some other misfortune has happened to him, or when some calamity has befallen a kraal, the priest declares the cause of such sickness, or other calamity, to be the "umshologu" of one of their ancestors, who has taken offence at their neglect in not supplying him with a sufficient number of sacrifices, and that consequently he is hungry, &c. When this is the case, a special sacrifice is offered to appease the ghost. The spine of the sacrificial beast is carefully cut out, from the head to its termination, including the tail, and carefully deposited in a place appointed for its reception. The blood is caught in a vessel, and, together with the caul or inside fat, conveyed to the hut of the sick person; or in case of some other calamity, to such place as the priest may appoint, and there left, sometimes for two or three days, for the gratification of the "umshologu's" appetite. After this [p.85] the spine and other bones of the sacrificial beast, together with the inside fat, are carefully burned, and the blood is buried in the dry dung of the cattle fold.

On some extraordinary occasions a special sacrifice is offered to the "icanti," or water "umshologu," and which assumes the shape of a large snake. In this case, the beast is cut up, and thrown piece by piece into a deep hole in the river pointed out by the priest, together with the skin and everything belonging to it. None of the flesh of this sacrifice is allowed to be eaten, but the whole is consecrated to the imaginary being whom they wish to propitiate. This sacrifice is generally offered on behalf of a person in the state of "ukutwasa," or when passing through the initiatory state of priesthood.


Kafirs are firm believers in sorcery or witchcraft; and they consider that all the sickness and other afflictions of life are occasioned thereby; and that were it not for the evil influence of the "amagqsvira," none would die but in a good old age. This universal belief in witchcraft has led to the almost entire neglect of the art of healing by medicines; and to cause them to trust wholly to the power of charms, incantations, "arnadini," or sacrifices, &c. Hence their priests have little or no knowledge of the virtues of medicinal plants, and they trust entirely to such remedies as may be revealed to them by the "imishologu." And if, as is sometimes the case, they do make use of herbs, &c., they are always used in conjunction with [p.86] frequently found among other classes as among the priests. When all ordinary charms and other means have failed to remove sickness, &c., an application is made to the chief for permission to try the "umhlahlo," for no person can have the "umblahlo" performed without the express sanction of the chief. When this has been obtained, the people of the kraal in question, together with their neighbours of the surrounding kraals, proceed in a body to the kraal of the priest whom they intend to employ. The people belonging to the priest's kraal, with those of the surrounding kraals, then assemble. Two semi-circles are formed; one, of the party of the kraal seeking assistance, and the other, of the adherents of the priest. These semi-circles are so ranged as nearly to meet at their points, thus forming an almost perfect circle; leaving only just sufficient space between them to admit the priest and his assistants.

The ceremony of "ukwombela" is now commenced, the hide drums are violently beaten, the bundles of assegais are struck together, accompanied by the well-known humming and clapping of hands by the women. By and by, the priest rushes out of his hut, springs into the midst of the circle of human beings assembled, and commences jumping about in the most frantic manner, and performing all sorts of extraordinary gesticulations. This is called "ukuxentsa."

The men now beat their drums, and strike their bundles of assegais together, more violently than ever; and the women hum their exciting tunes, and clap their hands, in an increasingly agitated manner, vociferating all the while for help, and demanding who has bewitched them? This is continued until the priest is wrought up to the proper pitch of inspiration; when he suddenly [p.87] ceases, and retires to that part of the circle formed by his own adherents. He then names the persons who have bewitched the afflicted party or parties. On their names being pronounced, that part of the circle where they are sitting rises simultaneously, falls back, and leaves the devoted victims sitting alone. This is the exciting moment; and all eyes are fixed upon them, while the priest describes their sorceries, and the enchantments used by them for their diabolical purposes.

A rush is then made upon them, and every article in the way of kaross, ornaments, &c., is torn from off their bodies. They are then given in charge to certain parties appointed for that purpose, and led away to their respective kraals, there to be tortured in the most barbarous manner, in order to make them "mbulula," or reveal the materials by which they performed their enchantments. In the bush country, where the tree ants are plentiful, their nests are sought for; the poor wretch is laid down, water thrown over his body, and the nests beaten to pieces on him. This irritates the ants, and causes them to bite furiously; they also creep into the nostrils, ears, eyes, mouth, &c, producing the most excruciating pain by their bites. Sometimes a large fire is made, and the poor wretch is tied up to a pole, so close to it, as literally to roast him alive. Large flat stones are also heated red hot, and placed on the groins, and applied to the soles of the feet, and other parts of the body.

Another mode of torture resorted to, is the binding of a string so tight round the thumbs as to cause the most acute agony, and unless the poor creature does confess something, and produce some kind of "ubuti," or bewitching matter, he must eventually sink under the [p.88] torture. When the person altogether refuses to confess, (and which is sometimes the case), and at the same time the people are anxious to save his life, the priest is sent for, who produces the "ubuti" for him; or assists him to find it. by refreshing his memory, as to its whereabouts; otherwise he is generally dispatched without ceremony for his obstinacy. When the unfortunate victim has sufficiently satisfied his tormentors by his confessions, he is generally set at liberty. At this stage of the proceedings, the chief's "imisila," or sheriffs, make their appearance and demand the "isizi," and which is the same in number as for any other kind of homicide. The "isizi" is always paid by the person charged with witchcraft, even should the person supposed to have been bewitched recover.

Very frequently, however, the thief acts in a despotic manner, and seizes the whole of his cattle—(this is always the case when he is a political victim)—but this is not according to law, but a mere arbitrary act of power. If the person charged with witchcraft dies under the torture, or is wilfully killed without the sanction of the chief, the "isizi" must be paid for his life also; at least, according to law, the chief has the power to demand it, though he often foregoes his claim.

Persons charged with witchcraft are often put to death by the express command of the chief; in which case he takes possession of the whole of his property, and frequently "eats up" the whole kraal to which he belongs. This is always the case when the "umhlahlo" is made use of as a political engine, to get rid of some influential but troublesome individual; for when once a person has been legally charged with this crime, it matters not how popular or respected he might have [p.89] been before, be is at once avoided as the most noxious of human beings. The chiefs therefore find this a very convenient and powerful state engine to support their power, and enable them to remove individuals whom they would otherwise find great difficulty in getting rid of.

After a person charged with witchcraft has satisfied all legal demands, and is set at liberty, he has the right of applying to a priest, who offers a sacrifice for him, and performs some other rites; after which he is pronounced clean, and again becomes as honourable a member of society as though he had never been punished for witchcraft.

There is not the slightest doubt that the Kafirs do frequently attempt to bewitch each other; and for which purpose they practise a great number of villainous tricks. They have also the knowledge of several vegetable poisons, and of which they make a very free use in getting rid of those they dislike; and, as poisoning is included by them under the head of witchcraft, there is no wonder at their superstitions fears having invented some kind of scheme to detect and punish individuals whom they believe to be guilty of these crimes.

But what a melancholy state of society this is, and how zealously ought all Christian philanthropists to exert themselves to raise them from this state of heathen darkness and degradation!


These are the two great domestic superstitions, which are universally practised by the Kafirs as preventives, antidotes, and charms against all kinds of evils. The "isiko lobulunga" consists in tying the long hair drawn [p.90] from the tail of a cow or ox round the neck of the individual for whose benefit the rite is performed. Each family has certain cattle set apart for this purpose, and which are, to a certain extent, considered sacred; they cannot, for instance, he sold or given away, nor even lent to a person not related by blood to the family to which they belong.

The age at which this rite is performed appears to be immaterial; it is, however, generally performed on infants when they are about six months old. The father invites all his friends and neighbours, and for whom a feast is provided. He then proceeds to the cattle fold, selects a beast from among those set apart for this purpose, pulls a quantity of long hair from its tail, and presents it to the mother, who, after twisting it into certain fanciful shapes, ties it round the child’s neck. The "isiko lengqiti" consists in cutting off the first joint of one of the fingers, generally the little finger; a cake of new cow-dung is held under the child’s hand, to catch the blood; the part of the finger which is cut off is also placed in the dung, and then the whole is plastered up in the top of the hut inside.

The above is the ordinary way of performing these rites. When, however, they have been, from neglect or other cause, left unperformed, and sickness or other misfortune happens to the individual, a priest is sent for, who, on ascertaining that the rite has been neglected, orders it to be performed in his presence; in which case a beast is sacrificed as an atonement for the neglect.

Some families consider the "ubulunga" as their family charm, others the "ingqiti," and others again, more superstitious than their neighbours, perform both.


When a female is sent to be married she takes the beast with her which has been consecrated for her protection, and from the tail of which the "ubulunga," or long hair, was taken which is tied round her neck. This beast, together with its increase, remains the property of the kraal from which she was married, and does not become the property of her husband.


Females are periodically considered unclean. At such times they abstain from the use of milk, and are not allowed to approach within a certain distance of their husband’s sleeping place; and some other trifling ceremonies must be attended to. The time of the "ukuzila," or state of separation, is seven days.

This custom necessarily places a female in the undesirable predicament of being often obliged, in company, to explain the state she is in, in order to give a reason for her refusing to drink milk when offered to her; and by thus being obliged to converse habitually, and in public, on this indecent subject, Kafir females have lost all idea of shame in connection with it.


This is the ceremony of the purification of women after childbirth. A woman is not allowed to be seen out of her hut, or to be visited by her husband or other male friends, during her state of "ukufukama," which continues for a full month after her confinement, and during which time she also "zilas," or abstains from the use of milk. At the expiration of the month, her friends and neighbours are invited, and under ordinary [p.92] circumstances the sacrificial beast is killed by the husband, without the assistance of a priest. A feast ensues, after which, each of her female friends presents her with a few loose beads, which she strings on to the "ubulunga" or other charms which she ordinarily wears, and ties them round her neck. She is then smeared with fat and red clay, and thus her purification is complete; but she does not cohabit with her husband during the whole time she is suckling.


This is a very singular custom; and, in its nature and tendencies, presents insuperable difficulties to the introduction of civilized habits into the domestic circle; and especially to the exercise of those kindly offices which Christianity inculcates.

By this strange custom, a daughter-in-law is required to "hionipa" her father-in-law, and all her husband’s male relations in the ascending line; that is, to be cut off from all intercourse with them. She is not allowed to pronounce their names, even mentally; and whenever the emphatic syllable of either of their names occurs in any other word, she must avoid it, by either substituting an entirely new word, or at least, another syllable in its place. Hence this custom has given rise to an almost distinct language among the women. The emphatic syllable which she must not pronounce is that which immediately follows the prefix of the proper name.

She is not allowed to enjoy their company, nor to be in the same hut with them; nor is she supposed even to look at them. Thus she is debarred from performing all those kindly offices towards the elders of her husband’s family which nature dictates and Christianity commands. [p.93] She may, however, associate with her husband's relations in the collateral line of relationship.

The same custom forbids all strange females, or those related only by affinity to the owner of the kraal, from entering the cattle fold, or even from walking on those parts of the village site where the cattle are accustomed to stand and lie down, and which is called the "inkuadhia." Hence they have to make circuitous paths from one hut to another, round the back of the huts, in order to avoid crossing the "inkundhla." These women’s tracks may he seen at every kraal. Females related by blood to the owner of the kraal may, however, walk on the "inkundhla," and even enter the cattle fold.

Females not related by blood to the owner thereof are also forbidden by this custom to touch the milk- sack; and they would rather die of hunger than pour milk therefrom.

This custom places the son-in-law also under certain restrictions towards his mother-in-law. He cannot enjoy her society, or remain in the same hut with her; nor can he pronounce her name.

He may, however, pronounce other words, although they may contain the emphatic syllable of her name nor does this custom require that the son-in-law should avoid the society of any of his mother-in-law's relations, even in the ascending line.

The daughter-in-law must to a certain extent "hionipa" her mother-in-law also; for instance, she cannot uncover her head, nor any other part of her body which is usually kept covered, in her presence.

If a female wilfully commits breaches of this custom she loses caste; and should any misfortunes befall the kraal on which she resides, and a priest be sent for, he [p.94] would most probably fix on her as the cause thereof, and she would then be punished as a witch. The dread of this, together with their own superstitious fears of incurring the displeasure of the "irnishologu," are an effectual preventive to any wilful breaches of this custom. I say wilful breaches, because, until practice has made them perfect, young married women often commit mistakes with regard to this custom, which are of course overlooked.


This national rite is performed at the age of puberty, and partakes partly of a civil and partly of a religious character. As a civil rite it introduces boys into the state of manhood; and as a religious rite it imposes upon them the responsibility of conforming to all the rites and ceremonies of their system of superstition.

The superstitions ceremonies practised in connection with this rite, also point it out as being part and parcel of that system, from whence such superstitious notions proceed; as does also the fact, that should anything of an untoward nature happen during the course of these initiatory rites, a priest would immediately be applied to, who would as a matter of course offer sacrifices to the "imishologu," in order to obtain a removal of such "isixake," or evil influence. Circumcision is generally performed about the time of the new year. A number of neighbouring kraals club together, and arrange that the boys thereof shall be circumcised together. A hut is erected for that purpose about half a mile from the most central kraal. To this hut the boys are taken, having been placed in charge of a person appointed to that office, and who is called the "inkankata," and under whose charge they continue during the whole [p.95] time of their initiation; and which state of initiation is called "ubukweta," the boys themselves being termed "abakweta." Here their foreskins are cut off, each boy taking his foreskin to a certain spot, where he hides it underground. Healing plants are then applied, together with certain charms; and which are removed and fresh ones applied from time to time; especial care being taken to preserve the whole of these bandages, to be burned at the appointed time, in order that they may not fall into the hands of sorcerers or witches, who might make use of them as "ubuti" to bewitch the boys. Cattle are then slaughtered by the parents, and the boys are plentifully supplied with flesh meat: a good deal of dancing also ensues at this stage of the proceedings. During the whole time of their initiation, which generally lasts until the Kafir corn crops are reaped, the hors form an entirely separate community; they sleep in one hut, and no others are allowed to eat with them. As soon as the soreness occasioned by the act of circumcision has healed, they are, as it were, let loose on society, and exempted from nearly all restraints of law, so that even should they steal and slaughter their neighbours' cattle, they would not be punished; and they have the special privilege of seizing by force—if force be necessary—every unmarried woman they choose, for the purpose of gratifying their passions; and yet I have heard it contended that circumcision, as it exists among the Kafirs, is a harmless custom; whereas the fact is, that it is while passing through this initiatory state into manhood, that virtue is polluted and destroyed, while still, as it were, in a state of embryo.

Another heathenish custom connected with this rite is the "ukutshila," and which consists in attiring themselves [p.96] with the leaves of the wild date in the most fantastic manner; and thus attired, they visit each of the kraals to which they belong, in rotation, for the purpose of dancing. These "ukutsliila" dances are the most lewd and licentious which can be imagined. The women act a prominent part in them, and endeavour to excite the passions of the novices, by performing all sorts of obscene gesticulations.

After all these "works of darkness" have been completed, the "abakweta" are taken to the river to be washed—for during the whole time of their separation they smear themselves all over with white clay. The whole of the men of the kraals to which they belong being assembled, the boys are chased by them, and obliged to run as fast as possible all the way to the river. After having sufficiently performed their ablutions, they return to their hut, where everything connected with their "ubukweta," including their karosses, bandages, &c., is collected inside the hut, and the whole is burned. The boys, having been smeared with fat and red clay, are presented with new karosses. They then proceed in a body to the kraal which has the charge of them; all of them being exceedingly careful not to look back upon the burning hut, lest some supernatural evil should befall them; and in order more effectually to avoid this, they are careful to cover their heads all over with their karosses.

The next day all the men assemble in the cattle fold. Cattle are slaughtered, and a grand feast ensues, at which the ceremonies of "ukuvala" and "ukusoka" are performed. The first consists in discourses or lectures by the men to the novices on their duties as members of society; they having now entered into the important [p.97] state of manhood. These duties, they are told, consist in obeying their chief; defending their tribe from all enemies; and in conforming to all the customs, and fulfilling all the rites and ceremonies, of their forefathers. They are also exhorted to be careful to provide for their parents, and all others committed to their charge; and to exercise a spirit of liberality towards all their neighbours and friends. The "ukusoka" consists in presents being made to them, by the men assembled, of cattle, assegais, &c., in order to give them a start in life. They are then pronounced to be men, and are admitted into all the privileges of that important state. From the above outline it will be seen that nothing can be more barbarous and degrading than the customs and ceremonies connected with this rite, as it is found to exist among the Kafirs; and yet, I fear, a very long time will elapse ere it will be altogether abandoned; as an uncircumcised male, though as old as Methuselah, would still be considered but a boy in the estimation of Kafir society. And no father would ever think of sending his daughter to be married to such a person; and if he did so, the girl would utterly refuse to become his wife. Every endeavour ought, however, to be made to do away with, at least, all the objectionable and heathenish parts of the rite.


This female custom is analogous to circumcision among the men, in as far as it is the initiatory rite by which girls are introduced into womanhood. It is performed at the same time of life, viz.: that of puberty; and the remarks made under the head of circumcision, as to its being partly of a civil, and partly of a superstitious [p.98] character, are equally applicable to this rite. When a girl arrives at the state of puberty, the fact is announced to the whole kraal. All the women immediately assemble, and rush to the cattle, and which they drive into the cattle fold, (regardless of all laws respecting females not being allowed to enter the cattle fold, &c., for this is a privileged day among the women), seize the finest beast amongst them, and which, if not prevented, they would immediately slaughter. But here a compromise generally takes place between them and the men, who redeem the one they have caught with another of less value. Dancing and feasting now take place, to which all the people of the surrounding kraals are invited; and all others, though not invited, may attend.

The girl in question is placed in a separate hut, and none but females are allowed to see her; and during the time of her separation, which lasts from seven to ten days, neither she, nor any of her female companions are allowed the use of milk. If the girl is of a respectable family, as many as from seven to ten head of cattle are slaughtered at this festival; during which time a fearful amount of immorality is committed. On these occasions, it is customary for all girls who have arrived at the age of puberty to choose paramours; and if they refuse to do so—which, however, is seldom the case—men are selected for them by the elder women, and with whom they are forced to cohabit as long as the festival lasts. Thus these poor creatures are degraded and polluted at the very threshold of womanhood, and every spark of virtuous feeling annihilated. When the time of her separation has expired, the girl in question, accompanied by her female companions, proceeds in the dusk of the evening to a convenient [p.99] spot, a short distance from the kraal, where she carefully hides under the ground the fork with which she has been accustomed to eat her food during the time of her separation, together with some other articles not necessary to mention. The next morning she is pronounced to be an "intombi;" that is, she has entered into the state of womanhood, and is considered marriageable.


Friendless persons among the Kafirs are seldom buried. They are generally carried away before they are dead, and deposited in some fissure of a batik or rock, and left to their fate; and it sometimes happens, that those thus cast away as dead recover and return to their kraals. They have a great repugnance to a person’s dying inside the hut; and even respectable Kafirs are generally carried outside to expire. On the death of a person who has friends, great and loud lamentations and screaming are always made by the women, but the men manifest their sorrow by sitting in profound silence. These lamentations do not generally last for more than an hour. The body is always placed in a sitting posture; and in filling up the grave, stones are carefully built up round the face, so as to prevent the earth from falling against it. When the corpse is placed in the grave, the relations often make use of some such exclamations as the following: "Look upon us from the place whither you are gone;" "Take care of us;" "Cause us to prosper," &c.

If it be a man, his favourite assegai is generally placed in the grave with him, as well as his karosses, &c. [p.100] After burial, those who assisted in the ceremony, as well as his other relations residing on the kraal, perform certain ablutions, and shave their heads. If it be the headman of the kraal who has died, all belonging to the kraal perform these ablutions and shave their heads. If the deceased was a married man, his wives fly to the mountains immediately on his death being announced, and there remain for several days; only coming to the kraal after dark, to obtain food and to sleep, and they are off again to the mountains with the first dawn of day.

Sometimes, however, they remain altogether in the mountains, night as well as day. During the first three or four days of mourning, they all abstain from the use of milk.

A priest is then sent for, who offers a sacrifice to the "imishologu," after which they drink milk as usual. The deceased's hut, if he had one, is always forsaken; and if he was the owner of the village or kraal, that is forsaken; and the cattle fold, together with all the huts belonging to the deceased's establishment, are allowed to decay and moulder away. The name of such deserted hut or kraal is called the "idhlaka." It is sacredly consecrated to the dead; and for any of the materials thereof to be used for fuel, or for any other purpose, by his surviving relatives, would be considered as great a crime as witchcraft. During the clays of mourning, which seldom extend beyond the period of one month, no cattle, &c., belonging to the kraal, are allowed to depart. As soon as it can be arranged, new karosses are provided for the wives of the deceased, who burn the old ones, smear with fat and red clay, and then the days of their mourning are ended.


In case of the death of a chief "watchers" are appointed to protect the grave for a considerable tithe. These persons have a number of cattle given them, belonging to the "great place," and which cattle are ever after considered sacred, and are called "the cattle of the chief's grave." These cattle cannot be seized for any crime of which their owners may be guilty; and, in fact, they are still considered as the property of the departed chief. Indeed, the grave "watchers" themselves are for a long time considered as very privileged persons, and are not generally punished for trifling misdemeanours.


This is another of the heathenish vanities in which the benighted Kafirs put their trust. They firmly believe that some of their priests have the power to cause it to rain; and that were it not for the baneful and malicious influence of the "amagqwira," or sorcerers, this blessing would uniformly follow the rites and ceremonies performed in order to its attainment. The power of causing rain is a peculiar gift, and is only enjoyed by a very few persons, even among the priests themselves; seldom by more than one in a tribe.

In time of drought, the chief sends a beast to the rain-maker to ask for rain. This beast is offered as a sacrifice by the rain-maker; and unless something of an untoward nature arises to prevent, it is expected that it will rain about the day on which the bones of the sacrificial beast are burned, which is generally done on the third day after it is killed. If it does not rain within a reasonable time, the chief sends to know the reason; and the rain-maker is never at a loss for excuses, such as [p.102] that the beast sent by the chief was not acceptable to the "urnshologu;" that another of a different colour must be sent, &c. When all his excuses of an ordinary nature have been exhausted, and the drought still continues, he does not hesitate to declare that sorcerers are exerting their evil influence to prevent the rain from falling; and recommends the chief to have the "umhlahlo," or ceremony of "smelling out," performed, in order to discover them. Sometimes the rain-maker himself names them; in which case the "umhlahlo" is dispensed with. Persons charged with this species of witchcraft never escape death, unless they manage to fly to another tribe. The manner of putting them to death is uniform; they are always tied neck and heels, and thrown into a deep hole of water in the nearest river; and their property is confiscated to the chief.

Rain-makers seldom die a natural death. They are generally, sooner or later, caught in the net of their own machinations, and in case of long-continued drought, and when all their tricks have failed to bring rain, they are often, in a very unceremonious manner, tied neck and heels, and thrown into a hole of water, by order of the chief. Indeed this remark is applicable to all priests; these bloody and deceitful men seldom live out half their days. This is especially the case with the "intonga yakwomkulu," or national priest. He seldom escapes death, should the army, which he is supposed to make invulnerable, meet with a signal defeat.


The foregoing are the principal customs and rites connected with, what I choose to call, the Religion of the Kafir tribes. It would he an endless task to follow [p.103] them through all their windings and ramifications, or to detail all the trifling and absurd ceremonies connected therewith. The outline given is, I think, sufficient to show their pernicious nature, and to prove that they are opposed to all advancement in civilization, utterly at variance with the spirit of Christianity, and altogether incompatible with that undivided trust in Divine Providence which God requires from his creatures. The rites and ceremonies of this system of superstition, it must be remembered, are not matters of indifference, which may be performed or neglected at the will of the individual, but they are the trust and confidence of the Kafir; and, in his estimation, his life and well-being depend on their due performance; and were he to despise or neglect them, he would, as I have elsewhere stated, lose caste, and be avoided by his friends and neighbours as a suspicious character, who must be trusting to the arts and powers of witchcraft, or he would never be guilty of such a heinous crime. And should any misfortune befall the kraal, and a priest be applied to to perform the "umhlahlo," or "smelling out," such suspicious person would, no doubt, be pointed out by the priest as the cause thereof, and punished as a wizard. Another thing, which effectually prevents them from committing any infractions of these rites and ceremonies, is the superstitious fear which they themselves have of incurring the displeasure of the "imishologu" by so doing, and consequently that some supernatural evils would befall them.

There is another point to which I would advert before I conclude, and on which I think it of great importance that correct views should be entertained; and this is, that the political and religious governments of the Kafir [p.104] tribes are so intimately connected, that the one cannot be overturned without the other—they must stand or fall together. The priests support the chiefs, and the chiefs support the priests. And very well do they understand that, if the one be destroyed, the craft of the other would be in imminent danger. In fact, with the exception of just their civil and criminal laws, the two departments may be considered hut one vast system of paganism, and which must be entirely overthrown before any extensive good can be effected amongst them. I think facts will bear me out in this view of the subject. For what is the present state of these people? The Gospel has been preached to them for the last fifty years, and some attempts have been made towards civilizing them; but the Kafirs, naturally considered, remain just as they ever were; no visible difference can be discerned. They are as perfectly heathen now as they were in the days of Van der Kemp.

It is true that individual Kafirs have been converted to Christianity, and, to a limited extent, civilized—nothing more. There has been no national movement; as a nation they continue in all respects as they were from the beginning. And so they ever will continue, so long as their political government continues to exist in its present pagan form.

Instance the case of the Chief Kama. He formally embraced Christianity some thirty years ago; but he evidently started on his Christian career with mistaken notions. Instead of embracing Christianity as a chief, and setting resolutely to work in that capacity to obtain a national abandonment of pagan superstition amongst his tribe, and a nominal profession of the faith which he himself had embraced, he evidently came to the [p.105] conclusion that he would endeavour to serve the God of the private individual merely. And what is the consequence? His people, as a tribe, are as perfectly heathen as ever they were. Nay, if I know anything about the matter, they are more hardened and confirmed in their superstitions now than ever; and were Karna now to attempt any radical reformation amongst them, as the chief they would probably forsake him to a man. Nay, is it quite clear that he himself has not, on some occasions, been led to compromise his Christian principles in order to appease his people, so as to retain his influence and command over them? If my views are correct, then all who have studied the subject must come to the conclusion, that the present pagan form of political government found amongst the Kafir tribes is, as I have before stated, inimical to all improvement, and that the sooner it is overthrown the better. How this will be accomplished is not for me to say. As so many untoward events have, however, happened in connection with our intercourse with these people, and so many clashing interests now exist; and as the Kafir tribes have now become so thoroughly imbued with hatred to the "white man," and appear so resolutely determined on his destruction, or to lose their political existence in the struggle; and above all, as they have so resolutely and so perseveringly refused to give to the Gospel even an attentive hearing, it seems to me that the way on which they themselves are so obstinately bent is the one which God will make use of to bring about this desirable object; and that the sword must first—not exterminate them, but—break them up as tribes, and destroy their political existence; after which, when thus set free from the shackles by which they are bound, civilization and Christianity will [p.106] no doubt make rapid progress among them; for they are a noble race, nowise deficient in mental capacity, and well worthy of all the labour and expense which the Imperial Government is bestowing upon them, and whose benevolent measures our excellent and philanthropic Governor is so energetically carrying out.

(Signed)     J. C. WARNER,           
    Tambookie Agent.