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Eight Years in Kaffraria, 1882-1890.

By Alan G. S. Gibson, M.A.
S.P.G. Missionary to the Pondomisi, and Archdeacon of Kokstad

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1891.

Chapter II. The Diocese of S. John's

THIS seems, perhaps, the most fitting opportunity for attempting to give some general idea of the diocese of. S. John's, which is co-terminous with the country that used to be known as Independent Kaffraria, and is possibly still so marked on many of our maps, although the title would now be a misnomer, the larger part of the territory having been annexed to the Cape Colony, and only the two Pondolands remaining independent.

The boundaries of the diocese are very distinctly marked: it extends from the river Kei to the Umzimkulu and Umtamfuna, and from the Drakensberg Mountains on the northern border to the sea: that is to say, that it is surrounded on three sides by the Old Colony, Natal, and the Orange Free State, while on the fourth side lies the ocean. It is, in fact, a huge native reserve, into which natives are being ever pressed in from three quarters, Colony Kaffirs, Zulus, and Basutos, while on the fourth there is no outlet. Here, then, we are brought face to face with the problems of the "native question." The question is not merely, What shall be the relations of the native to the white, so that the contiguity and commixture of the two races, instead of being prejudicial to both, as it too often is now, may be mutually beneficial? but also, How shall provision be made within this limited area for a large and rapidly increasing native population?

The whole area of the country is given in the Government Blue Books as 17,985 square miles, which supports a population of about 500,000 Bantu (this term includes Kaffirs, Fingoes, Zulus, Basutos), 10,000 whites, almost all of British extraction, and nearly 5000 Hottentots, Griquas (a mixed race of Dutch and Hottentots), and other bastards. In comparing the population with the area of the country, two facts must be borne in mind: that there are absolutely no towns, and that the Kaffirs--I use the term generic-ally, as almost equivalent to Bantu--are essentially a race of peasant proprietors on a small scale, whether agricultural or pastoral, and depend almost entirely on the land. Umtata and Kokstad, which are dignified by the name of towns, do not, I suppose, contain a population of more than 600 civilians each, at an outside computation. In the European farming districts the population is very sparse; in some of the native districts the land supports as many people as is possible, under the present conditions of life, when all are dependent upon crops and herds for a bare subsistence.

Of the whole area, which we may term roughly 18,000 square miles, the Pondolands claim 4869; while of the whole population of 515,000, the Pondos are believed to number about 120,000; but of these no census has been taken, as has been done where the people are under the rule of the Colonial Government.

The annexed territories are divided into the Transkei, Tembuland, and Griqualand East, and, at the mouth of the Umzimvubu, the S. John's territory, 16 square miles. Of the three first-named, Griqualand East is larger than the other two put together. These divisions are again subdivided into magistracies, governed by resident magistrates, who, at present, have local superiors in the persons of chief magistrates resident at Ntlambe, Umtata, and Kokstad respectively, the whole being a department under the Secretary of Native Affairs at Capetown. But it is probable that very shortly the office of chief magistrate will be abolished, and that the resident magistrates will report direct to Capetown. At present the relation between the two sets of officials is as follows. An appeal lies from the resident magistrate to the chief magistrate in all cases, if applied for; and the latter is bound to review all criminal cases which involve any but the smallest penalties. All official communications from and to the resident magistrates pass through the chief magistrates, and the latter have legal power to grant divorce.

The laws administered by the magistrates are--criminal, a special penal code; civil, Roman Dutch law, or (in purely native districts) native customs, as far as possible. The more important criminal cases are now tried by a circuit court, which comes round every six months, provision being thus made for trial by jury. In the purely native districts many of the smaller cases are settled by the native headmen who have been appointed by Government, some of whom are most efficient, and who (if chiefs by birth) are regarded with great respect by their people.

The magisterial staff consists of the resident magistrate and his assistant or assistants, an interpreter, jailer, and chief constable, and a small body of native police. In addition to the civil authorities, there is the military service of the Cape Mounted Rifles (C.M.R.), a corps recruited almost entirely from home, detachments of which are stationed at various places to act as a deterrent from stock-stealing by constant patrolling, and to be ready to overawe any incipient disaffection, or repress disturbances on the Pondo border. The native police are found very useful, loyal, and trustworthy; and I hope that future generations, if not the present, may see a native army, properly disciplined and trained, and officered by its own chiefs, which would, one can hardly doubt, prove most serviceable to the country, and perhaps some day to the empire. But the possibility of carrying out such a scheme must depend obviously upon the acceptability of our rule to the natives; lest the arms placed in their hands, and the training given them, should be turned by them against the Government from which it received them.

Events now move fast in Kaffraria. Representation in Parliament has been recently given us, Tembuland and the Transkei conjointly, and Griqualand East solely, returning one member. The right to vote is given to all who, having lived in that electoral district for not less than a year, are in receipt of £50 per annum, or £25 with board and lodging, or who are in possession of house or landed property to the value of £25. Many natives, therefore, are among the electors. A year or two more may see not only the abolition of the chief magistrate's office, of which I have already spoken, but increased representation, and the formation of fiscal divisions.

Into the question of the suitability of our mode of government to the native races in Kaffraria, I do not wish to enter fully. There is no doubt that many advantages accrue to them, as to white people, from the fact of that government: freedom from war, grants for schools, construction and repair of roads, as well as bridging of rivers, which is now at last being taken in hand by the Government. To all this of course they have a fair and just claim, as they surrendered their independence in not a few cases of themselves, and pay taxes to the Government (10s. hut-tax for every wife--the total revenue for 1888 exceeded the expenditure by £11,000). But the great boon conferred by European domination is that the terrible practice of "smelling out" is forbidden. In Independent Pondoland, when a native falls sick, resort is had to the witch-doctors. These smell out (as it is termed) some innocent, unoffending person, perhaps bribed by a third party who has a private grudge to wreak, or influenced by a chief who is covetous of the wealth and cattle that he sees belonging to this man. They declare him to have caused the sickness, and he is put to death often with most painful tortures. For the abolition of this horrible practice, at least, natives owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Colonial Government.

The Bântu tribes who inhabit Kaffraria are many in number. Almost everywhere are to be found the Fingoes, who, driven out of Natal about 1820 by Tshaka, were enslaved by the Xosa Kaffir tribes, and treated by them as dogs, until, emancipated by the white men, they have identified, themselves with them, broken loose to a large extent from the tribal system and tribal restraints, and adopted, as no other tribe has done, English ideas and customs, and with these Christianity. Of the Kaffir tribes proper, Gaikas and Gcalekas must rank foremost, and after these a host of names occur to the mind--Tembus, Bomwanas, Pondos, Pondomisi, Bacas, Xesibes, and others. All these speak, with only dialectical varieties, the Xosa Kaffir, and the same language will carry the traveller right up to Zulu-land, Zulu differing in no very great degree from the language spoken by our people. [At the north-east end of the diocese, e.g., at Clydesdale, and presumably still more in Natal, Zulu is spoken; but our Xosa Kaffir is still intelligible.] In the north of the diocese are to be found Basutos, also a Bântu race, speaking, however, Sesuto, and not Kaffir. In civilisation these must be reckoned as the foremost tribe in the annexed territories. To all these people most emphatically would I deny the term, which I have often heard applied to them in England, of "savages." Uncivilised they are, but their manners are polite (if allowance be made for their national customs and ideas), and among them I have found gentlemen as polished and refined as I have known in any land. Friendly, pleasant, and good-humoured, they have many of the qualities which go to make a good neighbour; and in ordinary times the missionary's life is every whit as safe among them as it would be in his own family circle at home in England, You may sleep fearlessly in a Kaffir kraal among entire strangers, or on the open veldt you may travel night and day among them on horseback or on foot; even in Pondoland, only once did I meet with uncivil treatment, and that was from a man who was palpably returning from a beer-drink. To lock the door at night is amongst us almost unknown.

Among mission people, as I have already indicated, the standard of civilisation is higher. Their huts have frequently windows as well as doors, in place of the hurdle which generally closes the one aperture that the ordinary hut contains. Among them you will descry square-built houses, gardens of fruit-trees surrounded by a sod wall or wire, crops of wheat and oats (in addition to the maize and millet which all Kaffirs grow) irrigated by water-furrows, and within the houses may be seen bedsteads, tables, and seats, in place of the mats and the logs which form the ordinary furniture of the Kaffir's home. It is possible to find natives who in all respects, save that of colour, are like the white men--people fit to enter any society, and habituated to its usages. I have seen such an one sit down with a magistrate at his table; I have often enjoyed the hospitality of a native Wesleyan minister and his wife, when the evening would be spent as it might have been in any European circle; I know how an indefatigable native priest of our Church, working in Fingoland, is welcomed by the white people into their houses: with such proofs as these, and with the native paper Imvo Zdbantsundu (Native Opinion) to point to, the natives may well repudiate the comprehensive name of "savages."

Of this large native population of some 500,000, about 30,000 are Christians. Of these the Wesleyans, to whom belongs the great honour of having commenced evangelistic work in Kaffraria in 1827, claim the largest number, probably some 12,000. Our own Church, which commenced operations at S. Mark's about 1856, nearly twenty years before the see was formed, numbers about 8000. Of the remainder, most would fall to the Free Church or the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Moravians also have three white missionaries, and the French Protestants one. The Roman Catholics have no native work at present of any size, and the Congregationalists appear to confine themselves almost entirely to the white people and the Dutch-speaking Griquas and Hottentots.

The effect of our "unhappy divisions" in the native mission-field must be candidly owned to be thoroughly bad. Consider only the enormous waste of strength! A little village like Umtata to have three denominations established there I And the same at Kokstad! And that in a country which is absolutely swamped with heathenism. Besides this, it has undoubtedly in the past been most prejudicial to the exercise of discipline, as the native excommunicated by one body would turn to another, or the headman whose school had been stopped by one missionary for the nonpayment of school fees might call in the services of some other communion. Although this is, I trust, less the case now than it was in former years, there is still in places a great deal of bitter rivalry, efforts being devoted to proselytising rather than evangelising, and the rule of charity being utterly forgotten. A feeling is now springing up among ministers of all denominations that much of this clashing is avoidable; and that, if this be so, steps ought to be taken to put an end to it. It must be remembered that there is such a wide field of entirely heathen work, that it ought to be quite possible to lay down, in mutual conference, some lines of work, which would put a stop to the friction that often now exists, without surrendering or compromising, any principle. Clearly we are all bound to look after our own members, to follow up our own sheep wherever they may wander, and not to hand them over to other communions: to do so would be to argue that it matters not what particular form of faith a man holds, that, apart from the question of salvation, there are no special privileges promised, no special blessings conferred in certain ways, no special revelation of God's will in smaller as well as in larger matters: and to believe this would cut away all ground at once for our separations, and could logically only lead us to reunite. But although this indifferentism is impossible, and the following up of our own sheep, whilst the migratory instinct is still so strong among the Kaffir tribes, must bring us into contact with the work and the members of other religious bodies, surely, in the cause of Christian charity, it might be commonly conceded that when the members of our communion leave their own station and settle on, or in the immediate neighbourhood, of the station of some other denomination, their own minister should content himself with supplying them with religious ministrations, and should not attempt to establish what is technically known as a "school" there, a course which is sure to produce many evil results to the cause of Christ. When we turn to work among the heathen, to avoid friction is still easier. Is it not a mere matter of common sense, where there are such vast fields utterly untouched, that the newcomer should turn his attention to a people or a place where none is working, and not attempt to thrust himself into other men's labours? Some of us are already trying to work upon such principles as these; and I believe that the more widely they are adopted, the more will God be glorified.

It is comparatively easy now for the missionary to find a welcome, if not to gain a hearing, among the natives. Not that I can with truth say that, as a nation, or as tribes, the Kaffirs care about Christianity as such; but they are certainly glad to receive missionaries, and to have schools planted in their midst. [This refers to the attitude of the tribes towards Christianity, before they are brought within its influence. Once drawn within its spell, the number of catechumens and adult baptisms shows how individuals feel that influence, and are ready to accept Christ in the face of many difficulties.] If you could get a heathen native to give you candidly his reasons why he liked to be near a missionary, his answer would probably be of some such nature as this: that a missionary is a great convenience, for he is generally a kind-hearted man; ready to give blankets to the cold and aged, very useful to borrow money from with which to pay the hut-tax, a sort of walking newspaper from whom all the latest information may be acquired, and a capital person to act as a go-between between the chief and the Government I There is also much more than this Many of the headmen like to have their own missionary, because it adds to their importance, or seems further to identify them as "Government men" (the two utterly different notions of "missionary" and "white Government" having been, most unfortunately, connected closely from the very first), and there is a strong feeling now that "the old order has yielded place to new," and that, if they wish themselves, their children, and their people to take any place in the world, it can only be through education; and the education must be got through the missionaries. So that there is hardly any part of the country now where the "abafundisi" ["Ministers," plural of umfundisi.] are not welcome. It often is from lower motives that the door is opened (surely lower motives are not unknown at home also), but for all that "Christ is preached."

And so it comes to pass that Christian notions and Christian usages are spreading rapidly even among the heathen. Men have learnt to work now as well as women; Sunday is often kept as a day of rest even by those outside; and the attribution of power to God by the heathen in their talk with us, and to a certain extent in their own thoughts, as when they come to pray for rain, is quite a matter of course.

Of that huge mass of some 470,000 heathen, what shall be said? Heathen they are, and yet far from devoid of the religious element. Indeed, belief in the Unseen forms a very large portion of their daily life, brought together in a multitude of superstitions, many of which are merely exaggerations of the truth. What is the belief in the existence of the spirits of the dead, and their action upon the living in the way of presentiments or by the sending of misfortunes, for which they must be propitiated by sacrifices, but a form of the Christian faith that the soul is immortal, and that there is a communion of saints which is increased rather than hindered by death? Does not the belief in witchcraft find a prominent place in the Bible? And is it not quite conceivable that in a country which lies in the bondage of heathenism, the "prince of this world" should be able to exercise more fully the faculty of "giving to whomsoever he will" some of his own malignant power, and that this, and not solely imposture, may be at the root of much that surprises and perplexes us? These beliefs, with other kindred ones, such as faith in the rain-makers, dread of places struck by lightning, and the like, go to make up the religious life--if we may so term it--of the heathen Kaffir. What is mainly lacking is any true idea of God, and any constant worship or prayer, private or public.

Of the white people in the diocese (only a handful, as compared with the native population), some are engaged in farming, others in trading either in the villages or out in the native districts, while some find their occupation in the civil and military services. As is probably the case in all colonies, old public school men and university men are not unfrequently to be found in situations which at first strike the newcomer as very incongruous; but we are a republican community in many respects, and do not judge of a man by his clothes or by his employment. One class is. however, conspicuous by its absence. The English labouring man, as known at home, is not to be found, his place being but feebly supplied by natives. The hospitality of Kaffraria, as probably of all colonies, is unfailing.

Among the white people, certainly the largest work is being done by our own Church, although in Kokstad the Congregationalists have a large congregation, and the Wesleyans at Umtata, Maclear, and elsewhere have resident ministers for the Europeans. The Presbyterians are also now developing a white work. The danger to the Church, however, lies in the Roman Catholic Convent Schools. Whereas eight years ago there were neither priests nor schools of this communion in Kaffraria, there are now four of the former and three of the latter. The self-denying lives of their celibate and indefatigable priests undoubtedly appeal most strongly to people; and the excellent and marvellously cheap education given in the convents proves most attractive to persons whose own religious convictions are not always very firmly settled, and who cannot understand that the early associations of environment and unconscious impressions upon eye and ear are far more powerful in moulding or perverting faith than direct proselytising. If the Church of England is not to lose the future wives of the white men in Kaffraria (and that means ultimately the whole of the white community), means must be given her to enable her vastly to extend her school work.

It will be readily understood that in a country nearly as large as Scotland scenery must vary greatly. I have already tried briefly to describe what may be considered as the typical and normal scenery of Kaffraria, although both words and photographs give but a very feeble and inadequate idea of it; but it must not be supposed that this description applies universally. In Pondoland the country is very broken, and the scenery in many places exquisite: the ride, for instance, from the Mlengane to S. John's, and again from S. John's to S. Andrew's, leaving little to be desired from this point of view--wood, rivers, and hills alternating or blending together into a series of exquisite pictures. In other places the landscape assumes a park-like aspect, where, as under the Insizwa mountains or by the Tsitsana, the country is dotted over with the sugar-bush, the large red flowers of which add an agreeable variety to the scene. In the north-east portion of the diocese, where Kaffraria trends towards Natal, there is not a little to remind the Englishman of his own country from time to time.

There is, I think, little exaggeration on the part of those who describe the climate as "almost perfect." The heat of the summer is tempered by the dryness of the atmosphere, so that it is generally possible to travel right through the hottest part of, the day; and although in winter there may be three or four degrees of frost by night, yet the days are delightfully warm. The rainy season par excellence is in the early part of the year, more especially in February and March; but the rainfall is not by any means restricted to this season. The two great drawbacks are found in the hailstorms, which, however, are only periodical and local, when large pieces of jagged ice fall, with such force as to break windows, destroy crops, and sometimes even riddle corrugated iron; [I have heard of one such case, not, however, in Kaffraria itself.] and the strong wind which blows from time to time, bringing with it clouds of dust, and not unfrequently unroofing such huts or houses as have been badly constructed. Such devastation, however, may always be avoided by careful building.

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