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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 IV. S. Augustine's Mission

THE early history of this mission, like that of S. Mark's, the oldest station in the diocese, would be found to be full of interest, should it ever be written. The following epitome is taken from the pages of the Mission Chronicle of the Scottish Episcopal Church (No. XXVIII., vol. iii.). "The foundation of this mission was one of the results of Bishop Gray's visit to England in 1862. It was his Lordship's wish to found the Bishopric of Independent Kaffraria as early as that date; but this circumstances having prevented, he decided on extending the mission work already begun in connection with the diocese of Grahamstown, by pushing forward a mission party with a priest of some experience at its head. Even this was not realised, and the party which left England in 1864 consisted of merely two students from S. Augustine's, Mr. Key and Mr. Dodd, and two young natives of Kaffirland, sons of chiefs, who had had some years of instruction at the same College, after having been at school at Zonnebloem, in Capetown.

"After having been ordained deacons in King Williamstown during Advent 1864, the party went on into Kaffir-land; and after spending six months with the Rev. J. Gordon, then at All Saints', during which time one of the native young men died, they went in August 1865 to the site of the late S. Augustine's Mission.

"The tribe amongst which they settled was the Pondomisi, who had three years previously to this 'been driven by the Fondo and Tembu tribes from the neighbourhood of the Umtata to the hilly country round S. Augustine's, and at the time of the foundation of the mission were in as wild a state as any tribe in the interior of the continent. There was no trader within reach, as all the tribes around them were more or less hostile; consequently the European luxuries of blankets, axes, hoes, &c., which now render the Kaffir's struggle for existence somewhat easier, were then almost unknown. Nine out of ten men shivered under a well-brayed ox-hide; the tenth, more fortunate, would be the owner of a well-worn blanket, or, better still, a robe of soft skins of wild animals, sewed together with the prepared sinews of the ox. [Written in 1883.]

"The work among this primitive people, with their chief Umditshwa, was interesting, if not encouraging. We have now no space to describe the building of the huts, and the first wattle-and-daub school-chapel, or the later brick chapel, which survived even the recent rebellion; nor to give details of the preaching at the kraals, or the long abortive attempts to collect the children for school; nor the darker side of the Kaffir character, when, misguided by superstition, they torture and put to death a supposed sorcerer." . . .

How much is indicated in those few words! How much patient and apparently thankless labour! What a story of endurance and faith! Stirring times, indeed, they must have been, when any day might bring its alarm of war, when kraals might be seen burning or cattle being driven off, as Umhlonhlo's Pondomisi made a raid upon "Umdit-shwa's people, or the Pondos attacked the Pondomisi, or the Basuto horsemen swept down upon them from the north. Stirring, hard, and anxious times, when the missionary's wife had to lock herself into her room to escape the insolence of the chief's son, when only the intervention of the missionary saved a man on the station from being tortured to death as a wizard; or when, still worse, his intervention failed, and it was only by a night escape from his guard, and a flight covered by the darkness, that Umdit-shwa's brother could save himself from being put to death on a charge of sorcery. Truly it was the missionaries of those times who "bore the burden and heat of the day" in Kaffraria, not we, who are permitted in some degree to reap what they sowed, and to enjoy the shade of the trees which they planted. ["Serit arbores, quae alteri soeclo prosint."]

Bishop Key continues: "Until the year 1872, when the country was taken over by the Government, the progress was merely nominal It was little more than gaining the confidence, and in some cases the affection, of the people around us. For the first four years we baptized only one adult, and by the date just mentioned there were about twenty. This seems but little if we count our results by numbers. The cause is not far to seek: indeed it is an oft-told tale, the difficulty of winning to Christ the people of these African tribes, where the tribal feeling is still strong and intact. . . .

"The year 1872 found the tribe sorely impoverished by war and its attendant famine; and the mission and its missionary, as Mr. Dodd had now gone into Tembuland, had bad its share of troubles. The principal feature of the last years of this first period of the mission was the number of sick and wounded folk brought there for refuge and asylum, who thus came into contact with religious teaching, and some of whom were baptized. But it was a trying time. Many of the people went away into Tembuland and other parts of the country; and it seemed almost advisable for the missionary to leave. However, he decided to remain, and without doubt his remaining prevented the tribe from being broken up.

"Just at this time was begun the out-station of S. Paul's, about twelve miles distant, on the road towards Umtata, to relieve the increasing population of S. Augustine's; and about the same time monthly services began to be bold amongst the English settlers at and about the Umtata.

"And now, when things were at their darkest, when all hope of a peaceful settlement among the adjacent tribes seemed gone, there stepped in the Government, first in the form of a commission to inquire into the disturbances, and find out if the belligerents would come under British protection; and then in 1873 came Mr. Orpen to receive their submission, and bring in a new era of peace.

"The country now became filled up. The wide plains around S. Paul's, before unoccupied for fear of raids from the Bondos or Umhlonhlo's people, were now quickly filled, and parties of Fingoes, mostly Christians, from the neighbourhood of S. Mark's, were attracted by this rich land, and applied for and obtained leave from the chief and the magistrate to settle. Thus were begun the out-stations of Mbokotwana and Umjika.

"There was a new element. Colonies of half-civilised families, mostly Christian, pushing, industrious, and I may say grasping, came to settle among the raw Pondomisi--came with their new-fangled ways, used to colonial law and order, ready to cringe to the chief to get his lands, but secretly despising him.

"And it must be confessed that for the time the effect was bad; for these colonies of Fingoes--though, on the whole, they were orderly, peace-loving, and Christian in their behaviour--went very near to neutralise the good feeling that had grown up between the missionary and the Pondomisi tribe. The history of the next seven years would be almost filled with the account of the squabbles which ensued between the Fingoes and the Pondomisi."

So writes the missionary who from 1865 to 1883 upheld almost alone among the Pondomisi the standard of the cross. His story brings us down to the year 1880, the year in which, as already stated, the storm of war broke over Kaffraria, and the so-called Pondomisi rebellion took place. To human judgment it seemed then most unfortunate that the war should have broken out just when it did, for Mr. Key, the one man in the country who might have stopped it, was at the time in England. For some account of that desultory three months' war, marked by Umhlonhlo's [The paramount chief of the Eastern Pondomisi, across the Tsitsa. He is to this day an exile at large, with, I believe, a price upon his head.] treacherous murder of Mr. Hope; the incarceration of some thirty white people at Tsolo for a week; the march of the Pondo relieving column, headed by a Wesleyan missionary, from Gungululu to Tsolo and back to Umtata; the firm and most helpful loyalty of the Christians at S. Paul's and S. Augustine's; the massacre of the seven Christians at Mbokotwana; I would refer to the narratives of the-actors themselves, which I have gathered up in the little "Reminiscences of the Pondomisi War." ["Reminiscences of the Pondomisi War: Episodes in the History of the Kaffrarian Mission." Blackwood, Edinburgh. Accounts from the pens of natives and white people of various scenes in the war, in which they played a part. These accounts are specially interesting, as showing the loyalty and helpfulness of the Christian natives.] When Umditshwa surrendered in January 1881, the mission buildings at S. Paul's and Mbokotwana, and the house at S. Augustine's (but not the church), were destroyed, the country devastated, the people scattered: the work had to be begun again de novo.

Umditshwa had formerly given tracts of land for church purposes at S. Augustine's and S. Paul's. S. Augustine's (the chief mission station) and Tsolo, the residency of the magistrate, had both been proved by this time to be in somewhat unsuitable positions; and at the suggestion of the R.M., it was arranged that he should remove to S. Paul's (on the Xokongxa stream), which accordingly changed its name from S. Paul's to Tsolo, a very misleading title, as the Kaffir Tsolo denotes the sharp-pointed hill hanging over the river Ingxu, by the site of the old residency; while the missionary should select for himself a fresh place in compensation for the two original grants at the stations named above. Bishop Key, after careful consideration and examination of the country, decided to choose a tract of land on the Ncolosi stream. This selection was ratified by the Government, and hither were removed the Christian families of Fingoes who had formerly been settled on the Ingxu and the Xokongxa, the station of S. Paul's thus ceasing to exist. The same could not be said of the old S. Augustine's, for the brick church, which still remained, and the fine garden enclosing the ruins of the parsonage, were secured to the mission by the Government, and two families of Christian Pondomisi preferred to remain there, so that this now sank into the position of an out-station. The old site of the residency at Tsolo (not new Tsolo, but the place rightly so called on the river Ingxu) was occupied in 1884 by a Presbyterian missionary--an unfortunate choice of a country in which, and a people among whom, the Church of England had been working for nineteen years, and was still working, in preference to districts which were absolutely untouched by any Christian operations.

The war of 1880, and the subsequent Land Commission of the Government, entirely changed the face of the country. The Pondomisi no longer occupied the whole of the magisterial districts of Tsolo and Qumbu, but only one location in each, while the chief of the Western Pondomisi was a prisoner at Capetown, and the head of the eastern section of the tribe was an outlaw, with a price upon his head, hiding for his life in Basutoland or elsewhere. Fingoes, and also Tembus, were brought in from Maclear district and other parts to occupy the land which had been taken from the Pondomisi who had fought against the Government, and the out-stations of S. Augustine's, Mbokotwana, and Umjika all fell outside the now restricted Pondomisi location, although many members of the tribe were living in the vicinity of the last-named place, so that when Bishop Key, on his consecration, had to leave Ncolosi, and hand over the work of S. Augustine's parish to his successor, he was necessarily obliged to hand it over in a state of flux.

The glebe-land at Ncolosi lies, as it were, in the centre of a horseshoe. Almost immediately behind it rises a well-wooded hill, while the two projections of the horseshoe are formed by other hills--the one, the Kwanca, a barren, flat-topped hill, stretching away towards the Jengca stream, on the slopes of which lie most of the kraals of the mission people, the furthest being perhaps a mile away; while the other side is formed by the great Bele hill, with masses of bush clothing its sides here and there. Between the central plateau where the glebe-land is situate (and where are also found some four or five of the station kraals) and the two hills named above lie two valleys with beautiful little streams running through them, which thus break the continuity of the horseshoe. Up one of these, under the Bele mountain, goes the footpath, leading through Umjika (twelve miles) to Umtata (twenty-four miles). From the other, which opens out to a greater width, is taken out the water-furrow which comes right past the parsonage and irrigates the glebe-land. The two streams meet a half mile or so below the missionary's house.

Looking away beyond the confluence, the land rises slightly again, and the final kraals of the mission are seen almost straight in front, about a mile from the Church. Beyond this, the kraals of the heathen Pondomisi lie very thick, until, at a distance of five miles, the river Ingixu is reached, shortly beyond which rise up the bold S. Augustine's hills, the lower slopes studded with kraals, the large kloofs filled with bush: the range of hills which, in that quarter, closes the view from Ncolosi, and above which, but many miles away, lies Maclear. Most of the mission land is cultivated, but parts are reserved for pasturage. Such was the place which became my home on January 1, 1884. I cannot contend that in itself, as yet, it is beautiful, because our trees have not yet grown up enough; but the view on almost every side is exquisite, and we are very fortunate in having our lines cast in such a well-watered country. As was only to be expected, little had yet been built. There was a wattle-and-daub parsonage, with thatched roof, of three rooms; detached kitchen, of wattle-and-daub, with iron roof; and two huts adjoining, one small and windpwless. This group of buildings formed the parsonage. In estimating this we have to take into account that the verandah room (which was my bedroom) at that date leaked hopelessly. Often have I woke up in the middle of the night to find the rain streaming in on me; have tucked my bed under my arm (for, happily, the bedstead was a folding one), and run out with it, and finished the night in another room. No amount of persuasion or harsher measures would prevent that roof from leaking. The Church was a round hut, with one window, and the school and carpenter's shop were similar. Another hut, without a window, was used as a stable. There was one noticeable and interesting feature in the Church-hut; the altar, which had been made by Mr. Key himself before the war, had passed through it in safety, and had now been brought over to the new station.

The native out-stations were four in number--Mbokotwana, Umjika, S. Augustine's, and Kanyelwa's. At all of these, except S. Augustine's, the people were in process of being moved. The Mbokotwana people were first removed to Esiqunqwini, and then, on their own representations, backed up by the Bishop, back to Mbokotwana; Kanyelwa's family were just being brought down from the Ndenxa (Pot River) to the Tsitsa, whence they were again afterwards shifted to Esiqunqwini; and at Umjika the site of the mission was being changed. Consequently buildings had to be erected at all these places, and until that could be done we had to be content with common huts.

Worship in huts is a curious experience. There is not a little to distract. Frequently a dog or a fowl will persistently try to force its way in, and has to be driven out again and again; sometimes it is almost impossible to see the words of the liturgy, as the light which streams through the four-foot high doorway is blocked out by the crowd of worshippers who cannot find space inside; the head has often to be bowed, not in reverence, but because the roof is so low that the officiating priest cannot stand upright; but as you look round upon the congregation, and see this one or that one whom you know has walked that morning six or eight miles, starting before sunrise, to come and meet his Lord; as your eyes fall upon a little band which travelled fifteen miles on the Saturday afternoon to be in good time for their Sunday communion; as you listen to the heartiness and yet the melody with which that choral Eucharist is rendered; as, above all, the wondrous hush, that silence which can be felt, that succeeds the consecration prayer--when, for all he hears, the priest, in spite of the eighty or a hundred worshippers, might fancy himself alone with his God--sinks into your heart; then you can realise that, in spite of all that hinders and distracts devotion, "God is in that place," quite as truly as in the most noble cathedral that English devotion ever reared. And yet I do not mean that we wish to hold our services in common huts: far from it! only that, when we are forced to do so, there are compensations of which the outside world knows little.

Of the various stations that I have named, S. Augustine's is seven miles from Ncolosi, Mbokotwana twelve, Esiqunq-wini about fifteen, Umjika twelve, and the part of Tsitsa where Kanyelwa was settling for a short time at the beginning of 1884 must have been nearly twenty-five miles away.

The out-station system is as follows. The station is put in charge of a native catechist or preacher. These two terms are not synonymous. The catechist is one who has passed a diocesan examination, been set apart to his office by the Bishop, and holds the episcopal license; the simple preacher is generally an old man, a survival of the older system when Christian men were few, and the diocese was as yet unconstituted, and the individual missionary was forced by necessity to place some of his converts in positions for which they were fitted by zeal and conscientiousness rather than by education and learning. The duties of the catechist or preacher-in-charge are as follows: to hold matins and evensong daily, to instruct the classes of catechumens and confinnands, to visit the sick, to baptize in cases of emergency, to bury, and to report to the missionary anything that requires his own attention. Besides the catechist, there are chapel-wardens elected by the people to discharge the usual duties (men whom I have found most useful in looking after the fabric of the Church, keeping order within its walls, and seeing that no unworthy communicants present themselves), and a teacher, who generally draws a Government grant, and holds school for four hours daily five days in the week, and usually also a sewing-mistress to teach the girls sewing three days weekly. All these are natives. The staff, of course, varies in different parishes or at different stations, and the rate of pay is also far from uniform. Probably the average pay for a catechist is about £10; for a competent teacher about £30. In some cases the offices of catechist and teacher are combined. When it is borne in mind that some parishes have twenty stations or more, and that the whole diocese includes more than ten parishes, it will be seen at once what a very large use is made of native lay agents; and how much we are for the present dependent upon them.

In addition to the out-stations, there are sub-stations, where a few members of the Church have settled in the same locality; but there is no proper school, or mission, or duly appointed catechist. In cases such as these, some man is generally authorised to read the service on Sunday, without preaching, and the people come to make their communion ordinarily at the nearest out-station.

The manual of instruction for the classes is a Kaffir catechism, authorised by the Bishop (in the main a translation of a well-known English catechism), which was carried out by the Rev. S. Adonis Bangela, [The second native priest in the diocese. It was he who brought the news of Mr. Hope's murder in the Pondornisi war.] under the supervision of the Rev. R. H. Godwin. A book of Kaffir Sermon Sketches is now in the press, designed to help preachers in the preparation of their sermons, and especially to guide them along right doctrinal lines. Kaffir religious literature is rapidly growing in the dioceses of Grahamstown and S. John's: besides Bible, Prayer-Book, and Hymn-Book, we have a Manual for Holy Communion compiled by Bishop Key, a Manual of Prayer, translations of Wesley's Pastoral Advice, Bishop Walsham How's Plain Words (third series), and Bishop King's Meditations on. the Seven Last Words, &c. The last two that I have named were made by one of the theological students of Canon Mullins of Grahamstown. At the present moment Bishop Key is engaged on a much-needed revision of the Prayer-Book

Besides catechists and preachers we have outside preachers, corresponding in some degree to local preachers among the Wesleyans, who are allowed to preach among the heathen only. These men go out to various kraals every Sunday, and as a general rule receive no pay.

The relation of the missionary to the out-stations consists in periodical visits, the exact nature and frequency of which vary in different parishes, depending, of course, in a great measure on the area of the country to be traversed, the trustworthiness of the catechist in charge, the number of the stations, and other like considerations. After a year or two's experience I had a small hut built for myself at my various out-stations; and in the visits which I used to pay to each place about eight times in the year, adopted generally some such routine as this. Notice having always been carefully given beforehand, I would arrive about 1 or 2 P.M. on the Saturday, and spend the afternoon in examining and instructing the classes (thus verifying the habitual instruction given by the catechist), settling any cases which were brought before me, having personal interviews with, any who might wish to see me privately, and also in teaching the catechist. After evensong the office of preparation for the Holy Communion was said. Hospitality is provided by the catechist, assisted by the other Christians. The accommodation and the food vary much. Sometimes both table and chair are little three-legged stools, standing about a foot from the ground, and the meat or mealies are brought in in a scuttle, helped out by a tin plate. Sometimes the arrangements are almost those of a European household. Until my visit to England in 1886 I used on these occasions to sleep on a mat, the saddle-bags generally serving as a pillow; but since that date, by the kindness of friends at home, mattress and pillow-cases have been provided, which, stuffed with grass, afford most luxurious accommodation.

On Sunday the ordinary services are held, and in addition there are baptisms and churchings if any are required, and, of course, a celebration. If I remain for evensong, I generally make the catechist preach then, so as to have an opportunity of hearing him, having taken the morning service myself.

At first it was necessary to use the services of an interpreter. It is difficult to say which affords greater facility for misconstruction and misapprehension, employing an interpreter or preaching in Kaffir before the language has been really mastered. In either case ludicrous or terrible mistakes may arise, particularly, in the former case, if the words employed be not simple, and the idea be not presented in Kaffir fashion. I recollect once being foolish enough to use the term "foul." "If," I said, "a man uses foul words, we know that he has a foul heart." My interpreter went on very happily, "Ukuba umntu uyateta ngokwenkuku," which means, "If a man speaks like a fowl." Fortunately I understood what he said, and stopped him before he proceeded to the conclusion. Those were the days when I used often to travel with two dictionaries, and much amuse my interlocutors by looking up and finding out words which they had used to me of which I was ignorant before.

Sometimes these visits to the out-stations would be prolonged for two or three days; or again at other times of the year, namely, at Christmas, Easter, and for the harvest festivals, all the stations would be visited one after the other, the missionary remaining at each one night only.

The harvest is generally reaped in May, and the harvest thanksgiving services are held about August or September, after the crops have been threshed out, so that, each man may give his tithe to God. My practice is to begin the day with a celebration, at which a short address is given. After the service, the meeting to give the offerings is held just outside the Church; then we return again into the building, and a few samples of what has been given are offered up, as representing the whole, and the service concludes with the Te Deum and the blessing.

Whether the station system be a wise one--that is, whether it be wise for the Christians to be massed together into centres--is a debatable question. But whether it be wise or foolish (and much may be urged with force on either side), it is a system that is inevitable, for the Christians will almost always gravitate to places where they can obtain the means of grace for themselves and education for their children.

I have spoken hitherto of the native out-stations which I found on taking charge of S. Augustine's parish. There were also two white congregations to which monthly services were supplied--at Maclean, some thirty-sis miles away, on the higher plateau; and at new Tsolo, where the magistrate lived, some nine miles distant. These were continued, although at neither place were there then any communicants of our Church; indeed, at Maclear almost all the people were Wesleyans, and at Tsolo Presbyterians. How much the tardiness of the Church in commencing operations abroad has to answer for!

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