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


This is a favourite story, and is therefore very widely known. Sometimes it happens that native girls are employed as nurses by Europeans, and that little children are taught by them to sing, or rather chant the song of the cock, so that this story may even be like "an old acquaintance with a cheerful face" to many of our own race who have grown up on the frontier,

The original of the first songs is:--

Uyalila, uyalila, umta ka Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Wenziwe ngabomu Sihamba Ngenyanga,
Ngabantu abantloni. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Bamtuma amanzi emini. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngetunga, laza latshona. Sihamha Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngomcepe, waza watshona. Sihamba Ngenyanga.
Waba kuka ngexakato, laza latshona. Sihaniba Ngenyanga.

That of the second is:--

Ndiyi nkuku nje ndingebulawe. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ndize kubika u-Tangalimlibo. Kukulu ku-u-u.
U-Tangalimlibo ufile. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ukelele umntu ntloni amanzi. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Ibe kutunywa inkomo, yakonya. Kukulu ku-u-u.
Yaba kutunywa inja, yakonkota. Kukulu ku-u-u.

Amon., the Kaffirs a childless woman finds little or no favour. In many cases she would be treated by her husband in exactly the manner described in this tale, so that by becoming a mother she might say from the bottom of her heart, with Elizabeth of old, that "her reproach was taken away from among men." Sometimes she is returned by her husband to her parents, a proceeding commonly adopted when she has a marriageable sister who can be given to him in exchange. The husband is required, however, before repudiating his wife, to go through the customary ceremonies, which are described in the following case tried before me when acting as a border magistrate in 1881:--A, a Kaffir, sued B, another Kaffir, to recover the value of a heifer lent to him two years before under these circumstances. B's wife, who was distantly related to A, had been niarried more than a year without bearing a child. B thereupon applied to him for a heifer, the hair of the tail of which was needed by the doctor of the clan to make a charm to put round the woman's neck. He had lent him one for the purpose, and now wanted payment for it. The defence was that A, being the woman's nearest relative who had cattle, was bound to furnish a heifer for the purpose. The hair of the tail was needed, the doctor had made a charm of it and hung it round the woman's neck, and she had thereafter given birth to a son. The heifer could not be returned after being so used. In this case, if the plaintiff had been so nearly related to defendant's wife as to have participated in the benefit of the cattle given by her husband for her, he could not have justified his claim under Kaffir law; but as he was very distantly connected, he got judgment. The feeling entertained by the Kaffirs about the court in this instance was that B had acted very ungratefully towards A, who had not even been present at the woman's marriage feast, but who had cheerfully acted in conformity with the custom which requires that a charm must be made out ot the hair of the tail of a heifer belonging to a relative of a childless wife, in order to cause her to bear children.

It will be observed that the woman speaks of those whose names are unmentionable. According to Kaffir custom no woman may pronounce the names of any of her husband's male relatives in the ascending line. She is bound to show them the greatest respect, and implicitly to obey their commands. She may not sit in the house where her father-in-law is seated, she may not even pronounce any word in which the principal syllable of his name occurs. Thus, a woman who sang the song of Tangalimlibo for me used the word angoca instead of amanzi for water, because this last contained the syllable nzi, which she would not on any account pronounce. She had therefore manufactured another word, the meaning of which had to be judged of by the context, as standing alone it is meaningless.

The beer-drinking company on the mats under a tree, the escort of the bride to her husband, and the wedding feast are true to the life.

The idea of the Kaffir with regard to drowning is also shown very distinctly in this tale. He believes that a spirit pulls the person under water, and that this spirit is willing sometimes to accept an ox as a ransom for the human victim. How this belief works practically may be illustrated by facts which have come under my own cognizance.

Some time in 1875, a party of Kaffir girls went to bathe in a little stream not far from the place where I was then living There was a deep hole in the stream, into which one of them lot, and she was drowned. The others ran away home as fast as they could, and there told a story how their companion had been lured away from their side by the spirit calling her. She was with them, they said, in a shallow part, when suddenly she stood upright and said, "It is calling." She then walked straight into the deep place, and would not allow any of them to touch her. One of them heard her saying, "Go and tell my father and my mother that it took me." Upon this, the father collected his cattle as quickly as possible, and set off for the stream. The animals were driven into the water while the man stood on the bank imploring the spirit to take the choicest of them and restore his daughter. The failure to get the exchange effected is still attributed by the relatives of the drowned girl to the absence of one skilful to work with medicines.

On another occasion, a Kaffir was trying to cross one of the fords of a river when it was in flood. He was carried away by the current, but succeeded in getting safely to land sonic quarter of a mile or so further down. Eight or ten lusty fellows saw him carried off his feet, but not one made the slightest effort to help him. On the contrary, they all rushed away frantically, shouting out to the herd boys on the hill sides to drive down the cattle, As might be supposed, the escape of the man from being drowned was then attributed to his being in possession of a powerful charm.

Besides these spirits, according to the belief of the Kaffirs, there are people living under the water, pretty much as those do who are in the upper air. They have houses and furniture, and even cattle, all of their domestic animals being, however, of a dark colour. They are wiser than other people, and from them the most skilful witchfinders are supposed to obtain a portion of the knowledge of their art. This is not a fancy of children, but the implicit belief of grown-up men and women at the present day. A knowledge of this is of great service to those who have to do with Kaffirs. As an instance, a woman came to me in July, 1881, to be., assistance. A child had died in her village, and the witchfinder had pointed her out as the person who had caused its death. Her husband was absent, and the result of her being "smelt out" was that no one would enter her hut, share food with her, or so much as speak to her. If she was in a path every one fled out of her way, and even her own children avoided her. Being in the colony she could not be otherwise punished, but such treatment as this would of itself, in course of time, have made her insane. She denied most emphatically having been concerned in the death of the child, though she did not doubt that some one had caused it by means of witchcraft. The witchfinder was sent for, and, as the matter was considered an important one, a larger number of Kaffirs than usual appeared at the investigation. On putting the ordinary tests to the witchfinder he failed to meet them, and when he was compelled, reluctantly, to admit that he had never held converse with the people under the water, it was easy to convince the bystanders that he was only an impostor.

Next: Notes: Story Of The Girl Who Disregarded The Custom Of Ntonjane