Sacred Texts  Africa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Negro, by W.E.B. Du Bois, [1915], at

p. 53


Primitive man in Africa is found in the interior jungles and down at Land's End in South Africa. The Pygmy people in the jungles represent to-day a small survival from the past, but a survival of curious interest, pushed aside by the torrent of conquest. Also pushed on by these waves of Bantu conquest, moved the ancient Abatwa or Bushmen. They are small in stature, yellow in color, with crisp-curled hair. The traditions of the Bushmen say that they came southward from the regions of the Great Lakes, and indeed the king and queen of Punt, as depicted by the Egyptians, were Bushmen or Hottentots.

Their tribes may be divided, in accordance with their noticeable artistic talents, into the painters and the sculptors. The sculptors entered South Africa by moving southward through the more central portions of the country, crossing the Zambesi, and coming down to the Cape. The painters, on the other hand, came through Damaraland on the west coast; when they came to the great mountain regions, they turned eastward and can be traced as far as the mountains opposite Delagoa Bay. The mass of them settled down in the lower part of the Cape and in the Kalahari desert. The painters were true cave dwellers, but the sculptors lived in large communities on the stony hills, which they marked with their carvings.

These Bushmen believed in an ancient race of people who preceded them in South Africa. They attributed magic power to these unknown folk, and said that some of them had been translated as stars to the sky. Before their groups were dispersed the Bushmen had regular government. Tribes with their chiefs occupied well-defined tracts of country and were subdivided into branch tribes under subsidiary chiefs. The great cave represented the dignity and glory of the entire tribe.

p. 54

The Bushmen suffered most cruelly in the succeeding migrations and conquests of South Africa. They fought desperately in self-defense; they saw their women and children carried into bondage and they themselves hunted like wild beasts. Both savage and civilized men appropriated their land. Still they were brave people. "In this struggle for existence their bitterest enemies, of whatever shade of color they might be, were forced to make an unqualified acknowledgement of the courage and daring they so invariably exhibited." 1

Here, to a remote corner of the world, where, as one of their number said, they had supposed that the only beings in the world were Bushmen and lions, came a series of invaders. It was the outer ripples of civilization starting far away, the indigenous and external civilizations of Africa beating with great impulse among the Ethiopians and the Egyptian mulattoes and Sudanese Negroes and Yorubans, and driving the Bantu race southward. The Bantus crowded more and more upon the primitive Bushmen, and probably a mingling of the Bushmen and the Bantus gave rise to the Hottentots.

The Hottentots, or as they called themselves, Khoi Khoin (Men of Men), were physically a stronger race than the Abatwa and gave many evidences of degeneration from a high culture, especially in the "phenomenal perfection" of a language which "is so highly developed, both in its rich phonetic system, as represented by a very delicately graduated series of vowels and diphthongs, and in its varied grammatical structure, that Lepsius sought for its affinities in the Egyptian at the other end of the continent."

When South Africa was first discovered there were two distinct types of Hottentot. The more savage Hottentots were simply large, strong Bushmen, using weapons superior to the Bushmen, without domestic cattle or sheep. Other tribes nearer the center of South Africa were handsomer in appearance and raised an Egyptian breed of cattle which they rode.

In general the Hottentots were yellow, with close-curled hair, high check bones, and somewhat oblique eyes. Their migration commenced about the end of the fourteenth century and was, as is usual in such cases, a scattered, straggling movement. The traditions of the Hottentots point to the lake country of Central Africa as their place of origin, whence they were driven by the Bechuana tribes of the Bantu. They fled westward to the ocean and then turned south

p. 55

and came upon the Bushmen, whom they had only partially subdued when the Dutch arrived as settlers in 1652.

The Dutch "Boers" began by purchasing land from the Hottentots and then, as they grew more powerful, they dispossessed the dark men and tried to enslave them. There grew up a large Dutch-Hottentot class. Indeed the filtration of Negro blood noticeable in modern Boers accounts for much curious history. Soon after the advent of the Dutch some of the Hottentots, of whom there were not more than thirty or forty thousand, led by the Korana clans, began slowly to retreat northward, followed by the invading Dutch and fighting the Dutch, each other, and the wretched Bushmen. In the latter part of the eighteenth century the Hottentots had reached the great interior plain and met the on-coming outposts of the Bantu nations.

The Bechuana, whom the Hottentots first met, were the most advanced of the Negro tribes of Central Africa. They had crossed the Zambesi in the fourteenth or fifteenth century; their government was a sort of feudal system with hereditary chiefs and vassals; they were careful agriculturists, laid out large towns with great regularity, and were the most skilled of smiths. They used stone in building, carved on wood, and many of them, too, were keen traders. These tribes, coming southward, occupied the east-central part of South Africa comprising modern Bechuanaland. Apparently they had started from the central lake country somewhere late in the fifteenth century, and by the middle of the eighteenth century one of their great chiefs, Tao, met the on-coming Hottentots.

The Hottentots compelled Tao to retreat, but the mulatto Gricquas arrived from the south, and, allying themselves with the Bechuana, stopped the rout. The Gricquas sprang from and took their name from an old Hottentot tribe. They were led by Kok and Barends, and by adding other elements they became, partly through their own efforts and partly through the efforts of the missionaries, a community of fairly well civilized people. In Gricqualand West the mulatto Gricquas, under their chiefs Kok and Waterboer, lived until the discovery of diamonds.

The Griquas and Bechuana tribes were thus gradually checking the Hottentots when, in the nineteenth century, there came two new developments: first, the English took possession of Cape Colony, and the Dutch began to move in larger numbers toward the interior; secondly, a newer and fiercer element of the Bantu tribes,

p. 56

the Zulu-Kaffirs, appeared. The Kaffirs, or as they called themselves, the Amazosas, claimed descent from Zuide, a great chief of the fifteenth century in the lake country. They are among the tallest people in the world, averaging five feet ten inches, and are slim, well-proportioned, and muscular. The more warlike tribes were usually clothed in leopard or ox skins. Cattle formed their chief wealth, stock breeding and hunting and fighting their main pursuits. Mentally they were men of tact and intelligence, with a national religion based upon ancestor worship, while their government was a patriarchal monarchy limited by an aristocracy and almost feudal in character. The common law which had grown up from the decisions of the chiefs made the head of the family responsible for the conduct of its branches, a village for all its residents, and the clan for all its villages. Finally there was a paramount chief, who was the civil and military father of his people. These people laid waste to the coast regions and in 1779 came in contact with the Dutch. A series of Dutch-Kaffir wars ensued between 1779 and 1795 in which the Dutch were hard pressed.

In 1806 the English took final possession of Cape Colony. At that time there were twenty-five thousand Boers, twenty-five thousand pure and mixed Hottentots, and twenty-five thousand slaves secured from the east coast. Between 1811 and 1877 there were six Kaffir-English wars. One of these in 1818 grew out of the ignorant interference of the English with the Kaffir tribal system; then there came a terrible war between 1834 and 1835, followed by the annexation of all the country as far as the Kei River. The war of the Axe (1846-48) led to further annexation by the British.

Hostilities broke out again in 1856 and 1863, In the former year, despairing of resistance to invading England, a prophet arose who advised the wholesale destruction of all Kaffir property except weapons, in order that this faith might bring back their dead heroes. The result was that almost a third of the nation perished from hunger. Fresh troubles occurred in 1877, when the Ama-Xosa confederacy was finally broken up, and to-day gradually these tribes are passing from independence to a state of mild vassalage to the British.

Meantime the more formidable part of the Zulu-Kaffirs had been united under the terrible Chief Chaka. He had organized a military system, not a new one by any means, but one of which we bear rumors back in the lake regions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. McDonald says, "There has probably never been a more

p. 57

perfect system of discipline than that by which Chaka ruled his army and kingdom. At a review an order might be given in the most unexpected manner, which meant death to hundreds. If the regiment hesitated or dared to remonstrate, so perfect was the discipline and so great the jealousy that another was ready to cut them down. A warrior returning from battle without his arms was put to death without trial. A general returning unsuccessful in the main purpose of his expedition shared the same fate. Whoever displeased the king was immediately executed. The traditional courts practically ceased to exist so far as the will and action of the tyrant was concerned." With this army Chaka fell on tribe after tribe. The Bechuana fled before him and some tribes of them were entirely destroyed. The Hottentots suffered severely and one of his rival Zulu tribes under Umsilikatsi fled into Matabililand, pushing back the Bechuana. By the time the English came to Port Natal, Chaka was ruling over the whole southeastern seaboard, from the Limpopo River to Cape Colony, including the Orange and Transvaal states and the whole of Natal. Chaka was killed in 1828 and was eventually succeeded by his brother Dingan, who reigned twelve years. It was during Dingan's reign that England tried to abolish slavery in Cape Colony, but did not pay promptly for the slaves, as she had promised; the result was the so-called "Great Trek," about 1834, when thousands of Boers went into the interior across the Orange and Vaal rivers.

Dingan and these Boers were soon engaged in a death struggle in which the Zulus were repulsed and Dingan replaced by Panda. Under this chief there was something like repose for sixteen years, but in 1856 civil war broke out between his sons, one of whom, Cetewayo, succeeded his father in 1882. He fell into border disputes with the English, and the result was one of the fiercest clashes of Europe and Africa in modern days. The Zulus fought desperately, annihilating at one time a whole detachment and killing the young prince Napoleon. But after all it was assagais against machine guns, and the Zulus were finally defeated at Ulundi, July 4, 1879. Thereupon Zululand was divided among thirteen semi-independent chiefs and became a British protectorate.

Since then the best lands have been gradually reoccupied by a large number of tribes--Kaffirs from the south and Zulus from the north. The tribal organization, without being actually broken up, has been deprived of its dangerous features by appointing paid village

p. 58


Ancient Kingdoms of Africa
Click to enlarge

Ancient Kingdoms of Africa


p. 59

headmen and transforming the hereditary chief into a British government official. In Natal there are about one hundred and seventy tribal chiefs, and nearly half of these have been appointed by the governor.

Umsilikatsi, who had been driven into Matabililand by the terrible Chaka in 1828 and defeated by the Dutch in 1837, had finally reëstablished his headquarters in Rhodesia in 1838. Here he introduced the Zulu military system and terrorized the peaceful and industrious Bechuana populations. Lobengula succeeded Umsilikatsi in 1870 and, realizing that his power was waning, began to retreat northward toward the Zambesi. He was finally defeated by the British and native forces in 1893 and the land was incorporated into South Central Africa.

The result of all these movements was to break the inhabitants of Bechuanaland into numerous fragments. There were small numbers of mulatto Gricquas in the southwest and similar Bastaards in the northwest. The Hottentots and Bushmen were dispersed into groups and seem doomed to extinction, the last Hottentot chief being deposed in 1810 and replaced by an English magistrate, Partially civilized Hottentots still live grouped together in their kraals and are members of Christian churches. The Bechuana hold their own in several centers; one is in Basutoland, west of Natal, where a number of tribes were welded together under the far-sighted Moshesh into a modern and fairly well civilized nation. In the north part of Bechuanaland are the self-governing Bamangwato and the Batwana, the former ruled by Khama, one of the canniest of modern rulers in Africa.

Meantime, in Portuguese territory south of the Zambesi, there arose Gaza, a contemporary and rival of Chaka. His son, Manikus, was deputed by Dingan, Chaka's successor, to drive out the Portuguese. This Manikus failed to do, and to escape vengeance he migrated north of the Limpopo. Here he established his military kraal in a district thirty-six hundred and fifty feet above the sea and one hundred and twenty miles inland from Sofala. From this place his soldiery nearly succeeded in driving the Portuguese out of East Africa. He was succeeded by his son, Umzila, and Umzila's brother, Guzana (better known as Gungunyana), who exercised for a time joint authority. Gungunyana was finally overthrown in November, 1895, captured, and removed to the Azores.

North of the Zambesi, in British territory, the chief role in recent

p. 60


Races in Africa
Click to enlarge

Races in Africa


p. 61

times has been played by the Bechuana, the first of the Bantu to return northward after the South African migration. Livingstone found there the Makolo, who with other tribes had moved northward on account of the pressure of the Dutch and Zulus below, and by conquering various tribes in the Zambesi region had established a strong power. This kingdom was nearly overthrown by the rebellion of the Barotse, and in 1875 the Barotse kingdom comprised a large territory. To-day their king, Lewanika, rules directly and indirectly fifty thousand square miles, with a population between one and two and a half million. They are under a protectorate of the British.

In Southwest Africa, Hottentot mulattoes crossing from the Cape caused widespread change. They were strong men and daring fighters and soon became dominant in what is now German Southwest Africa, where they fought fiercely with the Bantu Ova-Hereros. Armed with fire arms, these Namakwa Hottentots threatened Portuguese West Africa, but Germany intervened, ostensibly to protect missionaries. By spending millions of dollars and thousands of soldiers Germany has nearly exterminated these brave men.

Thus we have between the years 1400 and 1900 a great period of migration up to 1750, when Bushmen, Hottentot, Bantu, and Dutch appeared in succession at Land's End. In the latter part of the eighteenth century we have the clash of the Hottentots and Bechuana, followed in the nineteenth century by the terrible wars of Chaka, the Kaffirs, and Matabili. Finally, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, we see the gradual subjection of the Kaffir-Zulus and the Bechuana under the English and the final conquest of the Dutch. The resulting racial problem in South Africa is one of great intricacy.

To the racial problem has been added the tremendous problem of modern capital brought by the discovery of gold and diamond mines, so that the future of the Negro race is peculiarly bound up in developments here at Land's End, where the ship of the Flying Dutchman beats back and forth on its endless quest.


54:1 Stowe: Native Races of South Africa, pp. 115-216.

Next: VIII. African Culture