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Kaffir (Xhosa) Folk-Lore, by George McCall Theal, [1886], at


Charms and medicines for the cure of diseases are classed together by the Kaffirs. Some of the women as well as of the men have really a wonderful knowledge of the properties of herbs and roots. They are acquainted with various vegetable-poisons and with their antidotes, and not unfrequently make use of them.

A case recently came before me for investigation, in which a Kaffir woman was suspected of having administered poison to another person. In her hut a great variety of roots and dried herbs was found. These were carefully separated, and then persons skilled in such matters were brought to give evidence as to their properties. Anything like collusion was impossible, yet each one without hesitation stated what each medicine was to be used for, and all agreed.

One plant was for curing stomach-ache, another acted as an emetic, a third cured the sting of a venornous insect, and so on. But among them was a plant to be chewed when crossing a stream, to prevent the river spirit from biting a person. Another was a root to be used to gain the favour of a judge during a trial.

The method of using this last was as follows:-

A portion of it was to be placed upon some coals, over which the man was to sit, covering himself and the fire with his mantle so as to be thoroughly smoked. During the trial another portion was to be kept in the mouth.

Not the slightest distinction was made by the witnesses between these different kinds of "medicines."

The Kaffir is a perfect slave to charms, and hardly ever undertakes any matter of importance without using them.

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