Chapter 15.

With the Boers at Moroka's Hoek.

During the Boers' sojourn at Thaba Ncho, there sprang up a lively friendship between Phil Jay, a young Boer, and Ra-Thaga. The two were constantly together, at the Boer Settlement, at Moroka's Hoek, and at the Barolong Town of Thaba Ncho proper. They made up their minds to learn each other's language, so Phil taught Ra-Thaga how to speak the Taal and Ra-Thaga taught the Boer the Barolong speech. They were both very diligent and persevering and, having ample opportunities for practice, they both made very good progress. There was one special bond of fellow-feeling between them, namely their mutual aversion to the Matebele.

Ra-Thaga could never forgive the sacking of Kunana, nor Phil-Jay the loss of his cattle and those of his relatives. His Boer pride was repeatedly hurt when he recollected how badly they had been worsted by the wild folk whom his people called 'nude kafirs.' He thought likewise of his particular cow, Driekol, which yielded abundant supplies of milk. When he remembered that enemy children were being fed on the milk of his cows, while his own brothers and sisters lived partly on Barolong charity, the soothing words of his mother could scarcely allay his wrath. Sometimes he would burst out in her presence saying: “Oh that our cattle were captured by friendly Hottentots, or reasonable Natives such as the Barolong, instead of those wild savages!”

Whenever he confided his grief to Ra-Thaga the effect was only to fan the glowing embers of revenge that were burning in his breast.

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Then Ra-Thaga would exclaim: “Whenever I visit the homes of other men and see the beautiful dishes that their mothers-in-law prepare and send over to them, and find no one near my dwelling to mind the babies when Mhudi goes a-faggotting, I think of her and say: 'This faithful child of my mother, so lonely and forlorn, is without help, because without a mother's advice! Shall I ever forgive the Matebele! But for them, my mother-in-law would be alive and active. And when I see a sheep-master select the fattest wether in his sheep kraal and proudly send it to his mother-in-law, I grieve and wish that she were alive, for then my cattle-fold would hold no kine, my sheep-pen no fat-tailed mutton and my hunting snares would catch no venison too good for her. The plains would feed no game, the silver jackals grow no furs and no eland falling to my musket would have forequarters so fat and tasty but would be all hers.”

“Yesterday again I was looking at my poor wife at work, and there was that everlasting gap which only a mother-in-law can fill; and it was poignantly brought home to me that I have married an orphan, and am therefore orphaned also.”

At times they fell into a discussion and schemed and plotted for means of avenging these wrongs. If their secret malediction did not affect the Matebele far away, they always seemed to increase their liking for each other.

By this time Ra-Thaga's admiration for the Boers embraced not only Phil Jay's family, but other members of the Boer settlement. Almost every time he went up to the Hoek he returned to his house with tales of fresh virtues he had discovered among the Boers. Their unerring shooting, their splendid horsemanship, the dexterity of Boer women with the needle; the beautiful aroma of the

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food they cooked (possibly due to the fact that their iron pots were always systematically scrubbed and cleaned), and the lustre of their eating utensils.

Ra-Thaga's intense love of the Boers, however, was not shared by his wife, for Mhudi could not understand why they were so hairy, and why they were so pale. But her husband always said: “Wait until you taste the beautiful food they cook, and you will fall head over heels in love with them all.” She wished she could believe her husband, but somehow she could not master an inexplicable dread that lingered in her mind.

One day Ra-Thaga induced her to accompany him to the Boer settlement at the Hoek. He succeeded in getting Phil Jay to speak to his wife the few Rolong words he had taught him in exchange for his own Boer vocabulary. This had a reassuring effect on Mhudi who met at least one Boer who could talk her language. Phil and her husband visited other parts of the Boer camp and left her with Phil's mother, but they could not understand each other's language. The Boer lady gave her some cookies which were exceedingly tasty, and she made a parcel of them to take to her children; she began to reflect that after all her husband had not exaggerated the virtues of the Boers. It was fortunate for these feelings that she could not understand their language, for some of the Boers who eyed her curiously, exchanged among themselves several remarks about her that were not too complimentary. Phil and Ra-Thaga were away rather long, and Mhudi, as her husband had predicted, really began to “fall in love with every Boer.” How wrong she had been in her first dislike of her husband's friends! She already began to reproach herself for having doubted the wisdom of her resourceful husband, when something happened that shook

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to its foundations her newly found faith in the character of the Boers.

Outside one of the huts close by she observed a grizzly old Boer who started to give a Hottentot maid some thunder and lightning with his tongue. Of course Mhudi could not understand a word; but the harangue sounded positively terrible and its effect upon the maid was unmistakable. She felt that the Hottentot's position was unenviable, but more was to come. An old lady sitting near a fire behind the waggon took sides against the maid. The episode which began rather humorously developed quickly into a tragedy. The old lady pulled a poker out of the fire and beat the half naked girl with the hot iron. The unfortunate maid screamed, jumped away and writhed with the pain as she tried to escape. A stalwart young Boer caught hold of the screaming girl and brought her back to the old dame, who had now left the fireplace and stood beside a vice near the waggon. The young man pressed the head of the Hottentot girl against the vice; the old lady pulled her left ear between the two irons, then screwed the jaws of the vice tightly upon the poor girl's ear. Mhudi looked at Phil's mother, but, so far from showing any concern on behalf of the sufferer, she went about her own domestic business as though nothing at all unusual was taking place. The screams of the girl attracted several Dutch men and women who looked as though they enjoyed the sickly sight.

Mhudi's first impulse was to rush to the rescue, but, suddenly, remembering that every Boer had a gun, she feared that such cruel people might as easily riddle her with a score of bullets, for she was revolted by their callous indifference to the anguish of the unfortunate girl.

At last Ra-Thaga and Phil came back and Mhudi

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appealed to her husband to help the girl. Ra-Thaga explained to Phil, and the latter immediately went up to unscrew the vice and the grateful maid, still screaming very loudly, fell at his feet and thanked him.

Mhudi, whose love for the Boers was thus shattered as quickly as it had been formed, retained a strong confidence in the sagacity of her husband who apparently had the sense to make friends with the one humane Boer that there was among the wild men of his tribe. And when they left, she shook the dust of Moroka's Hoek off her feet and vowed never to go there again.

That night Ra-Thaga could scarcely sleep. Mhudi pestered him with questions about the Boers and her interrogations continued almost to the small hours of the morning. “What sort of people are these friends of yours?” she would ask. “Have not the Boers got a saying like ours: a e ne modiga?”  1 

All next day callers were told of the cruel episode of the previous afternoon. Every now and then she would exclaim: “My husband's friends! They looked at the girl squirming with pain, with her ear between two irons and they peacefully smoked their pipes like a crowd of people watching a dance. Give me a Matebele rather. He, at any rate, will spear you to death and put an end to your pains. My husband's friends!

After this the Boers occasionally heard themselves referred to as “Ra-Thaga's friends.” The Barolong women using Mhudi's own words called them “My husband's friends.” Not knowing the origin of the phrase, the Boers thought that they had made a fresh impression of friendliness among their hospitable black

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benefactors, and so took it as a compliment.

Now, Ra-Thaga during his numerous visits to the Hoek, had seen several instances of severe flogging of Hottentots, but his mind being always occupied with the subject of his visit, he minded his own business and overlooked these instances. But since his wife had made her caustic observations he could not help remarking that, compared with the larger population in the Barolong town, the rate of flogging among the small population at the Hoek was disproportionately high. Besides this he remarked that the Boers inflicted corporal punishment by using the birch upno their own children very much like the Barolong; and that, like them, when a Boer child was chastised, someone always shouted a pardon, though not as readily as the Barolong did. He noticed further that no Boer ever interceded when a Hottentot was flogged. That in punishing Hottentots the Boers used dangerous weapons, the most familiar being the sjambok made of sea-cow hide; or the buckle end of a belt. Further he noticed that the number of lashes they applied to their servants was excessive and sometimes appalling. In these cases, the Boer onlookers would gather round and even assist the castigator. So he was obliged to admit the justice of his wife's allegations.

One day Ra-Thaga returned from a long journey far out on the Thaba-Tilodi plains in the direction of Basutoland. The day being hot he felt tired, and as he was to pass near the Boer settlement, he thought he would call on his friend for a piece of ash-cake which he was sure he would get on mentioning his hunger. Outside the camp he observed a number of Hottentots drawing water; among them there were a few Boer children playing round about the spring. Tired and thirsty as he was, he saw a

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vessel full of cold water and at once proceeded to help himself. He had hardly stopped drinking when the loud cries of a Dutch boy interrupted him. The boy, howling at the top of his voice, was yelling “the Kafir, the Kafir!” Soon a number of Boers were scrambling towards the pool gesticulating so rapidly and loudly that his Boer vocabulary proved useless to him. With the exception of a few abusive terms he could not distinguish much of what they said, but it soon became clear that the loud profanity was meant for him. For a while things looked very ugly, for he had never seen the Boers so angry. As they approached he collected his little bundle, and adjusting his attire was on the point of running when an elderly Boer from the top of a wagon shouted to his infuriated brethren to return and leave the Barolong alone. They did not return however before making use of a few more expletives and shaking their threatening fists at the same time.

As Ra-Thaga was a long time revisiting the Hoek, Phil Jay called for him a few days later, and assured him that no Morolong could be hurt by the Boers while they enjoyed Barolong hospitality. The cause of the rumpus, he said, was that Boers at their own homes never allow black people to drink out of their vessels. The Boers cannot understand why black people when visited by white men show no such scruples. Phil added that whenever Ra-Thaga had been served at the Hoek it was always from vessels reserved for the use of Hottentots, and were he not a Morolong he would have paid for his presumptuous action with a lacerated back. After this information, Ra-Thaga's visits to the Hoek became less frequent. Ra-Thaga and Phil both agreed not to let Mhudi hear anything of the latest escapade of “her husband's friends.”

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For some time the chiefs had been planning to send a spying expedition into Matebele territory and Rantsau was selected for the job. As a companion the council suggested Ra-Thaga-a-Notto-a-Motila-a-Dira-a-Sehuba.  2  So the two attended at the awe-inspiring hut of a magician to be thoroughly charmed for the success of their mission. The ceremony being through they started out for the distant north. They were accompanied on the trip by Phil Jay and another young Boer, Phil June by name. Carefully eluding any Matebele scouts that might be wandering about, they travelled by night and hid by day till, after crossing the Vaal River, they eventually reached Mogaliesberg.

Mogale's people are an Eastern section of the Bakwena tribe, who instead of the crocodile — the tribal totem of Sechele's Bakwena — venerate the elephant. But they spoke the Rolong tongue with a peculiar accent so beautifully, that the spies were not very sure that the quaint accent did not improve the sound of the language. Mogale's people also paid taxes to the Matebele but lived comfortably among their cornfields and cattle posts, as Mzilikazi only required from them a nominal tribute in recognition of his supremacy.

The Natives here about had never seen a White man before, and the hut in which Phil Jay and Phil June lay concealed by day was daily besieged by curious Bakwena. The spies began to fear that the surprise and searching questions of the crowds would eventually reveal their presence to informers who would carry the news to the Matebele and frustrate the object of their mission. Tlou, the headman, was obliged to restrict the callers and permit

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only those who could be relied on not to say a word about it afterwards. At last Tlou entirely prohibited the visits of the curious; only such men as came on business sometimes managed to catch a glimpse of the Boers.

Still that did not deter the people from coming. Women found all sorts of pretexts for visiting Tlou's village; and in order to be admitted to Phil Jay's retreat they came loaded with presents of meat and milk and vegetables; others brought wild fruit and honey and the hostesses and attendants had a royal time. The women invented ingenious excuses for bringing their children with them. A spry old lady said she had heard that the strangers were fond of sweet-cane, and had brought with her her daughter who carried a bundle of sugar cane; and as she herself was “half-lame and short-sighted” she had to be led by her grand-child; a son, she said, would be coming later on with a goat and possibly his smaller brother would help him to lead the animal as an offering to the strangers.

Such donors being privileged visitors used to crowd into the enclosure at the back of the hut where the strangers sat and asked them all sorts of curious questions. They were at first very timid, scampering away whenever a Boer would move himself; but growing bolder and bolder they addressed to them first a few simple queries, and were highly amused at Phil's peculiar pronunciation of the Native language. They distressed him very much by telling one another that the broken Sechuana he spoke was probably the Boer language. When their shyness wore off, their persistent attentions became to him so disagreeable that Phil pleaded to be spared the gentle solicitude of the Bakwena women; but his host and hostesses would not hear of checking them lest they should restrict the almsgiving, so the fair visitors laden with presents

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continued to pour into the place and to torment the Phils beyond endurance. They stroked their hair, they asked them to pull off their shoes and they counted their toes. They remarked on the buttons on Phil's jacket, and sometimes asked him to unbutton his shirt. Saving him the trouble at other times they personally did the unbuttoning and, baring his chest, they would ask Phil to account for the contrast between his pallid chest and ruddy face. This exhibition went on for days while Rantsau and Ra-Thaga, in pursuit of their mission, made log excursions into the territories occupied by Mzilikazi's people before returning to rest with their Boer friends. It used to be a relief to Phil when his Native friends returned with news, for then these visits by relays of inquisitive women would mechanically cease.

A month had elapsed since the spies left Thaba Ncho so a Boer party was despatched from Moroka's Hoek to find them. They were strictly enjoined to avoid contact with Matebele outposts, and to turn back the moment they found themselves in their proximity. The search party returned after ten days and reported having actually fired a few shouts at some Matebele scouts, but failed to obtain any news of Phil Jay and his friends. At home they were told, however, that some travellers who had seen Rantsau had reached Thaba Ncho with news that they were in high spirits and continuing their work. Rantsau, so the intelligence went, regarded the two Phils as valuable assets to the expedition, as the donations given them by Tlou's people might have fed a small army.

The search party looked foolish as they brought no news, but the climax of their incompetence came a few days later when a Basuto chief sent an ultimatum to the effect that the Boer party had killed two of his men and maimed

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two more who were peacefully hunting on the Vaal River. For this damage Chief Moseme claimed heavy compensation, failing which he would descend on the Boer settlement with an armed forced to compensate himself. But thanks to the intercession of Chief Moroka, a satisfactory compromise was effected.

*   *   *   *

The stay of the Boers at Moroka's Hoek largely influenced the Barolong mode of living. Sarel Siljay and some of the Chiefs were often together quietly discussing the impending reprisals against the common foe; and the following was not the only instance on which he took part in the national trials.

One day the Sabbath calm of Thaba Ncho was rudely disturbed by a tremendous scandal between two great families in the town, and unlike other scandals of the kind, there was not one woman only but there were two concerned in the case. On the southern end of the town there lived a prominent Ra-Pulana named Noko (i.e. Porcupine) and north of the town there was a Mokwena headman named Poe (Bull). Now, if these were common people, the proportions of the scandal might have been limited. But since each of the men had extensive connections in Barolong society the gossip disclosed wide and distressing ramifications. Noko had stolen the affections of Mrs. Poe, a litigious female of a cantankerous disposition, and the former's wife, so the gossipers said, had, by way of reprisal, successfully made love to Poe, who was also said to be enamoured of Mrs. Noko. The relatives grumbled and bad feeling became pronounced; old men and young people of the respective clans joined in the strife and exchanged harsh words. High expletives from the “Bull-ring” were let off for the delectation of the inmates

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of the “Porcupine-den” and the latter never failed to return the compliments with compound interest. Abuses and imprecations were periodically hurled forward and reciprocated with alacrity. The time came when the children also took a hand in the battle-royal but it was an unequal content thus: A dozen of the Poe boys met seven of the Ra-Pulana children and belaboured them mercilessly. Their elders found on the bodies of some of their children enough bruises and other evidence of violent treatment to support in the Chief's court a case of “unwarranted assault.” A huge crowd attended the trial either as witnesses or to take part in the adjudication. And, of course, all the parents attended followed by numbers of their several households. The mother of one big-bellied piccanin, whose face wore distinct evidence of his lion's share of the blows, insisted that she was not going to be satisfied with empty apologies. “Apologies,” she said, “cannot mend the bruised body of my child. I want the fattest animal out of Poe's flock — a sheep with a very fat tail — as I require the dripping to anoint the wounds of my injured son.”

The whole of Thaba Ncho was agog with excitement, and when the chiefs lined up in all their courtly dignity to arbitrate in the case, they took a grave view of the proceedings. They knew that a Solomonic decision had to be delivered that day; even-handed justice was expected of them and even-handed justice they must dispense or there would be Donnybrook in Thaba Ncho. Each parental party was out for Barolong justice and either side clamoured for it in large quantities.

Naturally the evidence followed the wide ramifications and intricate connections underlying the original scandal, until the complexities were laid bare to the very roots.

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The aggrieved relatives on both sides attributed the whole mischief to the machinations of Mrs. Poe, and eventually the drift of the forensic eloquence almost lost sight of the children's fight and centred round the marriage tangle until the case resembled a double action for restitution of conjugal rights. Mrs. Noko first appeared to demand the lost love of her spouse, and it seemed that Poe wanted his wife back. In tendering their evidence neither of the supporters of the four persons held back anything that might prove damaging to the other side' each of the parties finished up by renouncing his or her original spouse, with whom they said future family peace was entirely out of the question. There was bad blood between the two men, but as for the two women, they made no effort to conceal their utter contempt for each other.

In such long cases there are no adjournments for refreshments. This case too had lasted from early morning, without intermission, and it was still in progress late in the afternoon, when Sarel Siljay turned up, accompanied by six other Boers. The Boers dismounted at the assembly place, and were invited to take part in the discussion. Siljay and his friends had previously attended Barolong trials but were amazed to find so many women taking part in this one. Having outlined the case for their information, Chief Moroka said: “Now, friend Sarel, the dispute was really between these little children, but the trial has given birth to a much greater case. We have heard all there is to be said on either side. It would save time if we tried the double marriage question straight away, as I do not wish to be troubled by it again. These men have stolen each other's wives; each of the two wives exonerates both men and accuses the other wife of stealing her husband. Our minds are made up about the children's

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case, and we would now like to hear your views as a stranger on the larger issue.”

“Well, Moroka,” replied Siljay, “this is a complicated matter.”

“I should have told you,” interrupted the Chief, “that Poe says (and the woman corroborates) that he has loved Mrs. Noko ever since they were children and meant to marry her. He went out elephant hunting fifteen years ago and avers that on his return, he found that Noko had stolen and married his girl with the connivance of her parents, but against her will. And so when he speaks of his rightful wife he means the other man's wife, for he never really conquered his infatuation for her.”

“In that case,” proceeded the Boer, “we would ask the woman to cling to the husband she is married to, and forget all about her childhood's love. The parties should remain with the spouses they were wedded to before these disputes arose. That would be my award if I were the judge.”

Chief Moroka giving judgment said: “Now you have all heard divers views of old men; you have heard the views of younger men and the views of women too; you have heard the views of white men. And neither side can complain of having been ignored. As a child I remember being told of a case among the Bangwaketse almost like the present one. It was regarded as an abomination for a case of that sort had never previously presented itself for arbitration. It was heard by the late King Chosa and this was his judgment: He fined the two men five head of cattle each and sentenced the women to be birched with berry wood twig for their share in the intrigue. He then ordered the wives to return to their

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original husbands and threatened them with death if they repeated their offence.

“Unfortunately we do not live in Chosa's days,” continued the Chief. “The Barolong of to-day are more refractory than the Barolong of my grandfather's days. I can see by the faces of these women, especially that little woman over there, with eyes like a yellow snake's, that it would be a crime to sentence her to spend the rest of her days with a man she has ceased to love. Both these women might well poison the two men if we compelled them to go back, and I have no desire to turn potential mothers into witches. Each man loves his stolen wife better than his own, and in my opinion their was not a bad exchange. My judgment is: From to-day, Noko shall take Poe to wife; and Poe shall have Noko's wife, the woman he says he loves. Each of the two men must pay a fat bullock to satisfy the children in their little case. The women shall go to their new men straight from here, and never trouble each other again. The past must be forgotten and I shall deal severely with anyone who reminds them of its unsavoury details.”

The two women could scarcely hide their satisfaction with what appeared to them the only wise decision. All tongues stopped wagging and they went to their new homes rejoicing. Each shook the dust of the old home from the soles of her feet, and spurned in disgust every relic of her first marriage. The general satisfaction restored the Sabbath calm of Thaba Ncho for the two husbands also shared their views. As for the children, whose fight precipitated matters to such a head, they ate so much beef when the fines were paid, that they wished there could be a children's fight every now and again.

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Chapter 15.

With the Boers at Moroka's Hoek.

During the Boers' sojourn at Thaba Ncho, there sprang up a lively friendship between Phil Jay, a young Boer, and Ra-Thaga. The two were constantly together, at the Boer Settlement, at Moroka's Hoek, and at the Barolong Town of Thaba Ncho proper. They made up their minds to learn each other's language, so Phil taught Ra-Thaga how to speak the Taal and Ra-Thaga taught the Boer the Barolong speech. They were both very diligent and persevering and, having ample opportunities for practice, they both made very good progress. There was one special bond of fellow-feeling between them, namely their mutual aversion to the Matebele.

Ra-Thaga could never forgive the sacking of Kunana, nor Phil-Jay the loss of his cattle and those of his relatives. His Boer pride was repeatedly hurt when he recollected how badly they had been worsted by the wild folk whom his people called 'nude kafirs.' He thought likewise of his particular cow, Driekol, which yielded abundant supplies of milk. When he remembered that enemy children were being fed on the milk of his cows, while his own brothers and sisters lived partly on Barolong charity, the soothing words of his mother could scarcely allay his wrath. Sometimes he would burst out in her presence saying: “Oh that our cattle were captured by friendly Hottentots, or reasonable Natives such as the Barolong, instead of those wild savages!”

Whenever he confided his grief to Ra-Thaga the effect was only to fan the glowing embers of revenge that were burning in his breast.

Then Ra-Thaga would exclaim: “Whenever I visit the homes of other men and see the beautiful dishes that their mothers-in-law prepare and send over to them, and find no one near my dwelling to mind the babies when Mhudi goes a-faggotting, I think of her and say: 'This faithful child of my mother, so lonely and forlorn, is without help, because without a mother's advice! Shall I ever forgive the Matebele! But for them, my mother-in-law would be alive and active. And when I see a sheep-master select the fattest wether in his sheep kraal and proudly send it to his mother-in-law, I grieve and wish that she were alive, for then my cattle-fold would hold no kine, my sheep-pen no fat-tailed mutton and my hunting snares would catch no venison too good for her. The plains would feed no game, the silver jackals grow no furs and no eland falling to my musket would have forequarters so fat and tasty but would be all hers.”

“Yesterday again I was looking at my poor wife at work, and there was that everlasting gap which only a mother-in-law can fill; and it was poignantly brought home to me that I have married an orphan, and am therefore orphaned also.”

At times they fell into a discussion and schemed and plotted for means of avenging these wrongs. If their secret malediction did not affect the Matebele far away, they always seemed to increase their liking for each other.

By this time Ra-Thaga's admiration for the Boers embraced not only Phil Jay's family, but other members of the Boer settlement. Almost every time he went up to the Hoek he returned to his house with tales of fresh virtues he had discovered among the Boers. Their unerring shooting, their splendid horsemanship, the dexterity of Boer women with the needle; the beautiful aroma of the food they cooked (possibly due to the fact that their iron pots were always systematically scrubbed and cleaned), and the lustre of their eating utensils.

Ra-Thaga's intense love of the Boers, however, was not shared by his wife, for Mhudi could not understand why they were so hairy, and why they were so pale. But her husband always said: “Wait until you taste the beautiful food they cook, and you will fall head over heels in love with them all.” She wished she could believe her husband, but somehow she could not master an inexplicable dread that lingered in her mind.

One day Ra-Thaga induced her to accompany him to the Boer settlement at the Hoek. He succeeded in getting Phil Jay to speak to his wife the few Rolong words he had taught him in exchange for his own Boer vocabulary. This had a reassuring effect on Mhudi who met at least one Boer who could talk her language. Phil and her husband visited other parts of the Boer camp and left her with Phil's mother, but they could not understand each other's language. The Boer lady gave her some cookies which were exceedingly tasty, and she made a parcel of them to take to her children; she began to reflect that after all her husband had not exaggerated the virtues of the Boers. It was fortunate for these feelings that she could not understand their language, for some of the Boers who eyed her curiously, exchanged among themselves several remarks about her that were not too complimentary. Phil and Ra-Thaga were away rather long, and Mhudi, as her husband had predicted, really began to “fall in love with every Boer.” How wrong she had been in her first dislike of her husband's friends! She already began to reproach herself for having doubted the wisdom of her resourceful husband, when something happened that shook to its foundations her newly found faith in the character of the Boers.

Outside one of the huts close by she observed a grizzly old Boer who started to give a Hottentot maid some thunder and lightning with his tongue. Of course Mhudi could not understand a word; but the harangue sounded positively terrible and its effect upon the maid was unmistakable. She felt that the Hottentot's position was unenviable, but more was to come. An old lady sitting near a fire behind the waggon took sides against the maid. The episode which began rather humorously developed quickly into a tragedy. The old lady pulled a poker out of the fire and beat the half naked girl with the hot iron. The unfortunate maid screamed, jumped away and writhed with the pain as she tried to escape. A stalwart young Boer caught hold of the screaming girl and brought her back to the old dame, who had now left the fireplace and stood beside a vice near the waggon. The young man pressed the head of the Hottentot girl against the vice; the old lady pulled her left ear between the two irons, then screwed the jaws of the vice tightly upon the poor girl's ear. Mhudi looked at Phil's mother, but, so far from showing any concern on behalf of the sufferer, she went about her own domestic business as though nothing at all unusual was taking place. The screams of the girl attracted several Dutch men and women who looked as though they enjoyed the sickly sight.

Mhudi's first impulse was to rush to the rescue, but, suddenly, remembering that every Boer had a gun, she feared that such cruel people might as easily riddle her with a score of bullets, for she was revolted by their callous indifference to the anguish of the unfortunate girl.

At last Ra-Thaga and Phil came back and Mhudi appealed to her husband to help the girl. Ra-Thaga explained to Phil, and the latter immediately went up to unscrew the vice and the grateful maid, still screaming very loudly, fell at his feet and thanked him.

Mhudi, whose love for the Boers was thus shattered as quickly as it had been formed, retained a strong confidence in the sagacity of her husband who apparently had the sense to make friends with the one humane Boer that there was among the wild men of his tribe. And when they left, she shook the dust of Moroka's Hoek off her feet and vowed never to go there again.

That night Ra-Thaga could scarcely sleep. Mhudi pestered him with questions about the Boers and her interrogations continued almost to the small hours of the morning. “What sort of people are these friends of yours?” she would ask. “Have not the Boers got a saying like ours: a e ne modiga?”  1 

All next day callers were told of the cruel episode of the previous afternoon. Every now and then she would exclaim: “My husband's friends! They looked at the girl squirming with pain, with her ear between two irons and they peacefully smoked their pipes like a crowd of people watching a dance. Give me a Matebele rather. He, at any rate, will spear you to death and put an end to your pains. My husband's friends!

After this the Boers occasionally heard themselves referred to as “Ra-Thaga's friends.” The Barolong women using Mhudi's own words called them “My husband's friends.” Not knowing the origin of the phrase, the Boers thought that they had made a fresh impression of friendliness among their hospitable black benefactors, and so took it as a compliment.

Now, Ra-Thaga during his numerous visits to the Hoek, had seen several instances of severe flogging of Hottentots, but his mind being always occupied with the subject of his visit, he minded his own business and overlooked these instances. But since his wife had made her caustic observations he could not help remarking that, compared with the larger population in the Barolong town, the rate of flogging among the small population at the Hoek was disproportionately high. Besides this he remarked that the Boers inflicted corporal punishment by using the birch upno their own children very much like the Barolong; and that, like them, when a Boer child was chastised, someone always shouted a pardon, though not as readily as the Barolong did. He noticed further that no Boer ever interceded when a Hottentot was flogged. That in punishing Hottentots the Boers used dangerous weapons, the most familiar being the sjambok made of sea-cow hide; or the buckle end of a belt. Further he noticed that the number of lashes they applied to their servants was excessive and sometimes appalling. In these cases, the Boer onlookers would gather round and even assist the castigator. So he was obliged to admit the justice of his wife's allegations.

One day Ra-Thaga returned from a long journey far out on the Thaba-Tilodi plains in the direction of Basutoland. The day being hot he felt tired, and as he was to pass near the Boer settlement, he thought he would call on his friend for a piece of ash-cake which he was sure he would get on mentioning his hunger. Outside the camp he observed a number of Hottentots drawing water; among them there were a few Boer children playing round about the spring. Tired and thirsty as he was, he saw a vessel full of cold water and at once proceeded to help himself. He had hardly stopped drinking when the loud cries of a Dutch boy interrupted him. The boy, howling at the top of his voice, was yelling “the Kafir, the Kafir!” Soon a number of Boers were scrambling towards the pool gesticulating so rapidly and loudly that his Boer vocabulary proved useless to him. With the exception of a few abusive terms he could not distinguish much of what they said, but it soon became clear that the loud profanity was meant for him. For a while things looked very ugly, for he had never seen the Boers so angry. As they approached he collected his little bundle, and adjusting his attire was on the point of running when an elderly Boer from the top of a wagon shouted to his infuriated brethren to return and leave the Barolong alone. They did not return however before making use of a few more expletives and shaking their threatening fists at the same time.

As Ra-Thaga was a long time revisiting the Hoek, Phil Jay called for him a few days later, and assured him that no Morolong could be hurt by the Boers while they enjoyed Barolong hospitality. The cause of the rumpus, he said, was that Boers at their own homes never allow black people to drink out of their vessels. The Boers cannot understand why black people when visited by white men show no such scruples. Phil added that whenever Ra-Thaga had been served at the Hoek it was always from vessels reserved for the use of Hottentots, and were he not a Morolong he would have paid for his presumptuous action with a lacerated back. After this information, Ra-Thaga's visits to the Hoek became less frequent. Ra-Thaga and Phil both agreed not to let Mhudi hear anything of the latest escapade of “her husband's friends.”

For some time the chiefs had been planning to send a spying expedition into Matebele territory and Rantsau was selected for the job. As a companion the council suggested Ra-Thaga-a-Notto-a-Motila-a-Dira-a-Sehuba.  2  So the two attended at the awe-inspiring hut of a magician to be thoroughly charmed for the success of their mission. The ceremony being through they started out for the distant north. They were accompanied on the trip by Phil Jay and another young Boer, Phil June by name. Carefully eluding any Matebele scouts that might be wandering about, they travelled by night and hid by day till, after crossing the Vaal River, they eventually reached Mogaliesberg.

Mogale's people are an Eastern section of the Bakwena tribe, who instead of the crocodile — the tribal totem of Sechele's Bakwena — venerate the elephant. But they spoke the Rolong tongue with a peculiar accent so beautifully, that the spies were not very sure that the quaint accent did not improve the sound of the language. Mogale's people also paid taxes to the Matebele but lived comfortably among their cornfields and cattle posts, as Mzilikazi only required from them a nominal tribute in recognition of his supremacy.

The Natives here about had never seen a White man before, and the hut in which Phil Jay and Phil June lay concealed by day was daily besieged by curious Bakwena. The spies began to fear that the surprise and searching questions of the crowds would eventually reveal their presence to informers who would carry the news to the Matebele and frustrate the object of their mission. Tlou, the headman, was obliged to restrict the callers and permit only those who could be relied on not to say a word about it afterwards. At last Tlou entirely prohibited the visits of the curious; only such men as came on business sometimes managed to catch a glimpse of the Boers.

Still that did not deter the people from coming. Women found all sorts of pretexts for visiting Tlou's village; and in order to be admitted to Phil Jay's retreat they came loaded with presents of meat and milk and vegetables; others brought wild fruit and honey and the hostesses and attendants had a royal time. The women invented ingenious excuses for bringing their children with them. A spry old lady said she had heard that the strangers were fond of sweet-cane, and had brought with her her daughter who carried a bundle of sugar cane; and as she herself was “half-lame and short-sighted” she had to be led by her grand-child; a son, she said, would be coming later on with a goat and possibly his smaller brother would help him to lead the animal as an offering to the strangers.

Such donors being privileged visitors used to crowd into the enclosure at the back of the hut where the strangers sat and asked them all sorts of curious questions. They were at first very timid, scampering away whenever a Boer would move himself; but growing bolder and bolder they addressed to them first a few simple queries, and were highly amused at Phil's peculiar pronunciation of the Native language. They distressed him very much by telling one another that the broken Sechuana he spoke was probably the Boer language. When their shyness wore off, their persistent attentions became to him so disagreeable that Phil pleaded to be spared the gentle solicitude of the Bakwena women; but his host and hostesses would not hear of checking them lest they should restrict the almsgiving, so the fair visitors laden with presents continued to pour into the place and to torment the Phils beyond endurance. They stroked their hair, they asked them to pull off their shoes and they counted their toes. They remarked on the buttons on Phil's jacket, and sometimes asked him to unbutton his shirt. Saving him the trouble at other times they personally did the unbuttoning and, baring his chest, they would ask Phil to account for the contrast between his pallid chest and ruddy face. This exhibition went on for days while Rantsau and Ra-Thaga, in pursuit of their mission, made log excursions into the territories occupied by Mzilikazi's people before returning to rest with their Boer friends. It used to be a relief to Phil when his Native friends returned with news, for then these visits by relays of inquisitive women would mechanically cease.

A month had elapsed since the spies left Thaba Ncho so a Boer party was despatched from Moroka's Hoek to find them. They were strictly enjoined to avoid contact with Matebele outposts, and to turn back the moment they found themselves in their proximity. The search party returned after ten days and reported having actually fired a few shouts at some Matebele scouts, but failed to obtain any news of Phil Jay and his friends. At home they were told, however, that some travellers who had seen Rantsau had reached Thaba Ncho with news that they were in high spirits and continuing their work. Rantsau, so the intelligence went, regarded the two Phils as valuable assets to the expedition, as the donations given them by Tlou's people might have fed a small army.

The search party looked foolish as they brought no news, but the climax of their incompetence came a few days later when a Basuto chief sent an ultimatum to the effect that the Boer party had killed two of his men and maimed two more who were peacefully hunting on the Vaal River. For this damage Chief Moseme claimed heavy compensation, failing which he would descend on the Boer settlement with an armed forced to compensate himself. But thanks to the intercession of Chief Moroka, a satisfactory compromise was effected.

*   *   *   *

The stay of the Boers at Moroka's Hoek largely influenced the Barolong mode of living. Sarel Siljay and some of the Chiefs were often together quietly discussing the impending reprisals against the common foe; and the following was not the only instance on which he took part in the national trials.

One day the Sabbath calm of Thaba Ncho was rudely disturbed by a tremendous scandal between two great families in the town, and unlike other scandals of the kind, there was not one woman only but there were two concerned in the case. On the southern end of the town there lived a prominent Ra-Pulana named Noko (i.e. Porcupine) and north of the town there was a Mokwena headman named Poe (Bull). Now, if these were common people, the proportions of the scandal might have been limited. But since each of the men had extensive connections in Barolong society the gossip disclosed wide and distressing ramifications. Noko had stolen the affections of Mrs. Poe, a litigious female of a cantankerous disposition, and the former's wife, so the gossipers said, had, by way of reprisal, successfully made love to Poe, who was also said to be enamoured of Mrs. Noko. The relatives grumbled and bad feeling became pronounced; old men and young people of the respective clans joined in the strife and exchanged harsh words. High expletives from the “Bull-ring” were let off for the delectation of the inmates of the “Porcupine-den” and the latter never failed to return the compliments with compound interest. Abuses and imprecations were periodically hurled forward and reciprocated with alacrity. The time came when the children also took a hand in the battle-royal but it was an unequal content thus: A dozen of the Poe boys met seven of the Ra-Pulana children and belaboured them mercilessly. Their elders found on the bodies of some of their children enough bruises and other evidence of violent treatment to support in the Chief's court a case of “unwarranted assault.” A huge crowd attended the trial either as witnesses or to take part in the adjudication. And, of course, all the parents attended followed by numbers of their several households. The mother of one big-bellied piccanin, whose face wore distinct evidence of his lion's share of the blows, insisted that she was not going to be satisfied with empty apologies. “Apologies,” she said, “cannot mend the bruised body of my child. I want the fattest animal out of Poe's flock — a sheep with a very fat tail — as I require the dripping to anoint the wounds of my injured son.”

The whole of Thaba Ncho was agog with excitement, and when the chiefs lined up in all their courtly dignity to arbitrate in the case, they took a grave view of the proceedings. They knew that a Solomonic decision had to be delivered that day; even-handed justice was expected of them and even-handed justice they must dispense or there would be Donnybrook in Thaba Ncho. Each parental party was out for Barolong justice and either side clamoured for it in large quantities.

Naturally the evidence followed the wide ramifications and intricate connections underlying the original scandal, until the complexities were laid bare to the very roots. The aggrieved relatives on both sides attributed the whole mischief to the machinations of Mrs. Poe, and eventually the drift of the forensic eloquence almost lost sight of the children's fight and centred round the marriage tangle until the case resembled a double action for restitution of conjugal rights. Mrs. Noko first appeared to demand the lost love of her spouse, and it seemed that Poe wanted his wife back. In tendering their evidence neither of the supporters of the four persons held back anything that might prove damaging to the other side' each of the parties finished up by renouncing his or her original spouse, with whom they said future family peace was entirely out of the question. There was bad blood between the two men, but as for the two women, they made no effort to conceal their utter contempt for each other.

In such long cases there are no adjournments for refreshments. This case too had lasted from early morning, without intermission, and it was still in progress late in the afternoon, when Sarel Siljay turned up, accompanied by six other Boers. The Boers dismounted at the assembly place, and were invited to take part in the discussion. Siljay and his friends had previously attended Barolong trials but were amazed to find so many women taking part in this one. Having outlined the case for their information, Chief Moroka said: “Now, friend Sarel, the dispute was really between these little children, but the trial has given birth to a much greater case. We have heard all there is to be said on either side. It would save time if we tried the double marriage question straight away, as I do not wish to be troubled by it again. These men have stolen each other's wives; each of the two wives exonerates both men and accuses the other wife of stealing her husband. Our minds are made up about the children's case, and we would now like to hear your views as a stranger on the larger issue.”

“Well, Moroka,” replied Siljay, “this is a complicated matter.”

“I should have told you,” interrupted the Chief, “that Poe says (and the woman corroborates) that he has loved Mrs. Noko ever since they were children and meant to marry her. He went out elephant hunting fifteen years ago and avers that on his return, he found that Noko had stolen and married his girl with the connivance of her parents, but against her will. And so when he speaks of his rightful wife he means the other man's wife, for he never really conquered his infatuation for her.”

“In that case,” proceeded the Boer, “we would ask the woman to cling to the husband she is married to, and forget all about her childhood's love. The parties should remain with the spouses they were wedded to before these disputes arose. That would be my award if I were the judge.”

Chief Moroka giving judgment said: “Now you have all heard divers views of old men; you have heard the views of younger men and the views of women too; you have heard the views of white men. And neither side can complain of having been ignored. As a child I remember being told of a case among the Bangwaketse almost like the present one. It was regarded as an abomination for a case of that sort had never previously presented itself for arbitration. It was heard by the late King Chosa and this was his judgment: He fined the two men five head of cattle each and sentenced the women to be birched with berry wood twig for their share in the intrigue. He then ordered the wives to return to their original husbands and threatened them with death if they repeated their offence.

“Unfortunately we do not live in Chosa's days,” continued the Chief. “The Barolong of to-day are more refractory than the Barolong of my grandfather's days. I can see by the faces of these women, especially that little woman over there, with eyes like a yellow snake's, that it would be a crime to sentence her to spend the rest of her days with a man she has ceased to love. Both these women might well poison the two men if we compelled them to go back, and I have no desire to turn potential mothers into witches. Each man loves his stolen wife better than his own, and in my opinion their was not a bad exchange. My judgment is: From to-day, Noko shall take Poe to wife; and Poe shall have Noko's wife, the woman he says he loves. Each of the two men must pay a fat bullock to satisfy the children in their little case. The women shall go to their new men straight from here, and never trouble each other again. The past must be forgotten and I shall deal severely with anyone who reminds them of its unsavoury details.”

The two women could scarcely hide their satisfaction with what appeared to them the only wise decision. All tongues stopped wagging and they went to their new homes rejoicing. Each shook the dust of the old home from the soles of her feet, and spurned in disgust every relic of her first marriage. The general satisfaction restored the Sabbath calm of Thaba Ncho for the two husbands also shared their views. As for the children, whose fight precipitated matters to such a head, they ate so much beef when the fines were paid, that they wished there could be a children's fight every now and again.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1A e ne modigaA plea on behalf of someone who is chastised
2-a-a (ie. the son of-)