Project Canterbury

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 V. Life at Ncolosi

MY first year at Ncolosi was one of comparative leisure, such as has never been enjoyed since, and probably will never be enjoyed again. Looking back through an "Occasional Paper" dealing with that year, I find these words: "There are few days at home when it is not possible to find some time for reading, meditation, and correspondence." Now, as a rule, every single moment of the day brings its own occupation with it, without any intermission whatsoever, month after month.

It was only natural that this commencement of Kaffir work should have been a time of comparative ease, considering that my knowledge of Kaffir was then very slight. This, and the recent war, with its consequent temporary suspension of work, are ample explanations of this state of affairs. It was open to me to take advantage of this in one of two ways: either by devoting myself thoroughly to a very careful study of the language, or by taking some private pupils to live with me in my new home. At first sight everything would seem to recommend the former course; but there was a great deal to be said in favour of the latter. Life on a mission station in absolute isolation is most undesirable; and where, the clergyman being a celibate, it is, from want of funds or other causes, impossible to carry out the apostolic plan of sending out missionaries two and two, instead of singly, it seemed to be a hopeful plan to secure the companionship of some colonial lads, who might afterwards develop into missionaries themselves. By this means interpreters would always be ready to band, the priest would not be alone, the lads would be receiving a good education, and be habituated to the missionary idea. It was, therefore, with much thankfulness that I received the consent of the parents of W. Vice, F. Rutters, and W. Leary, to take them with me to Ncolosi. This involved from two to three hours' actual teaching on five days in the week.

The day ran as follows. At sunrise, whatever the season, the first bell for service was rung; half an hour later, the second bell announced shortened matins, or, on "Wednesdays and Fridays, litany. (In the halcyon days of 1888, when we were five workers living all together at S. Cuthbert's, we were able to have a daily celebration every morning at sunrise in our Oratory in English.) The average congregation would be about 15, from a total, at that date, of 134 Christians on the station, including infants. The number varied a good deal according to the time of the year. At certain seasons all the people are at work in the lands, and then the attendance is scanty. Class-work is done in. the morning, not in the evening, when we never bring our people out if possible. Thus on Wednesday mornings there was a confirmation class, on Thursdays a catechumen class, and Friday a communicant's class. In summer we were generally out of Church from 6 to 6.30 A.M., and breakfast followed almost immediately.

At nine came Kaffir school, in which I usually taught for an hour: first catechising, and then giving instruction in English reading and writing. During the rest of the day the time was taken up in various ways, in addition to teaching the European boarders. Sometimes there would be a succession of native visitors--Pondomisi to hear the news, to sell fowls or sheep (for, in the absence of butchers, we buy by the animal, not by the joint or the pound), to apply for work, or to ask for medicine (the native's fondness for medicine is extraordinary); Fin goes to ask for books, preachers or teachers to report. On other days there would be preachers' meetings to be held, or "cases" to be "talked;" people on the station to be visited; applicants to be instructed in the nature and meaning of the Church. So the day sped by quickly until evensong at sunset, with intercessions for the Kaffrarian Church on Mondays, and a sermon on Wednesdays, after which the catechist used to come in for his daily reading and instruction. By nine o'clock, when compline was said in English with the white boys, the thought of bed was not unwelcome.

One Sunday in the month was spent at home. After a time a new order of services was adopted. Matins was put first, at seven in summer, followed immediately by celebration and sermon. From this we were generally out at 9.30, when the class of catechumens and confirmands was taken. After this there was nothing more until a children's service at three, followed in its turn by evensong at four, without sermon. All the services were choral.

The objects aimed at in this new scheme of hours, were to make the celebration the great service of the day, and, without duplicating, to enable the people to communicate fasting, and also not to lose matins; and besides all this, to avoid the great heat of the day, which was found intolerable under the corrugated iron roof of the Church which was shortly built.

It must be remembered that the foregoing sketch represents only one side of the work, the home-work. Into this must be woven the out-work, recurring always every week, and lasting sometimes for seven days together, which was indicated in the last chapter.

Domestic arrangements were at first, before the three boys came up and I was fairly settled, somewhat of a trouble. A Pondo boy named Buje had attached himself to me in some of my rides in Pondoland, while I was living at Umtata, and when he applied to me for work, and his father gave his consent, I resolved to have him for my first servant boy at Ncolosi. He joined me on January 9, at a store in Pondoland, where I had been staying with some old friends, coming, of course, in the one blanket which formed his whole stock of clothing. I had taken the precaution of providing myself with hat, shirt, and trousers for him, and offsaddled on the road at a convenient spot, and there initiated him into the mysteries of European costume, so that I might not offend the susceptibilities of our Christian people at Ncolosi. It was only to be expected that he should be a wild boy, quite unaccustomed to our ways, so that I was not at all astonished to find him diligently weeding the path on Sunday afternoon (the only time when I ever knew him voluntarily set himself to work), though I confess I was a little startled to see him one afternoon, when he was riding with me, rush off with a whoop to frighten away some little boys who were playing harmlessly by the roadside. But the climax was reached one day when, with a friend who was staying with me, I chanced to go into the kitchen, where Buje was supposed to be washing up, and found him scrupulously licking the plates clean!

Our connection did not last very long, and I cannot say I wonder at it, for he must have found it frightfully dull during the short time that he was with me. Very soon he asked for leave to go home for a little while, saying that he was wanted there to scare the birds from the crops, presuming, and that successfully, upon my ignorance of Kaffir seasons. As I was going to Umtata on January 20, I told him that I would take him so far myself, and that he should have leave to remain at home as long as he was wanted, and then return to me. On our ride down I chanced to notice that he was wearing both the shirts that I had given him, so that I was not much astonished to find the next day that he departed without saying good-bye, and to this day has never been seen again by me.

My next boy was Stephen Nomlala, a Christian from Umjika. His stay was even shorter than Buje's, for he came on January 28, and departed again on February 2. The cause of our separation was that I insisted on his going to Church. This he refused to do; and as I was firm on the point, he started off the same afternoon (it was Sunday) for his home, taking with him the blanket that I had lent him five days before. Happily this time, having learnt wisdom by the Buje incident, I was on the look-out, recovered the blanket, and thought myself well rid of the boy.

The following day I engaged an excellent Kaffir housekeeper, a communicant of our Church, who lived on the mission, and had been previously trained by Mrs. Callaway and Mrs. Johnston at Umtata. She came in the very nick of time, as the three white boys arrived the same day. Sarai (pronounced by the natives Seraiah) remained with me until October 1887, when she left to marry the Rev. E. Jwasa, and I do not wish ever to have a better servant. No white housekeeper could better have managed the household than she did.

The culinary department was thus provided for, and a housemaid was not required, as every one was responsible for his own room; but a boy or man for outdoor work was still needed. During the next year and a half, I had, I believe, two heathen Pondomisi and one renegade Christian, wno had been baptized in infancy, brought up among the heathen, and married three wives. One of the former I dismissed for disobedience, and one gave notice himself because he was punished for carelessness. The third was detected stealing, and was sent away. I relate all this in full, because it is commonly averred that heathen servants are so good and Christian ones so bad. The only adult Christian (not under Church censure) that I have had full experience of was Sarai, who left nothing to be desired, and my experience of heathen servants so far was not very encouraging.

On June 10, 1885, I sallied out, determined to secure a new servant boy. The method I adopted was to walk some three miles, then sit down upon the veldt, and in the intervals of reading the Phsedo study the faces of such Pondomisi boys as might pass of a suitable age. Presently one came by with a pleasant look, and when, after a little conversation with him, I found that he was ready for work, I clinched the bargain with him, and hired him. Keta, as his name was, was a funny little fellow in those days, quite uncivilised, with a diminutive shred of a red blanket hanging round him, which must have been quite insufficient to keep him warm on a winter's night. I cannot say that he is otherwise than very slow and stupid, but this is little when set against his many excellent qualities, for he is truthful, honest, loyal, and of an absolutely imperturbable good nature. He has never asked for a rise of wages, and never complained, even when he had great provocation to do so. I recollect well how, one evening about sunset, he came to report that one of the horses was missing. As the horse had only just been bought; I felt rather anxious about it, and told him to go and look for it again, and not come back till he found it. At eight o'clock the horse was brought in by some of the Station boys, having been found at one of the kraals on the mission, but there were no signs of Keta; and though I waited up till ten, keeping up a good fire in the kitchen, for it was a wet night, and I thought he would return soaked and chilled, he had not put in an appearance when I went to bed.

About eleven the next morning Keta was seen walking in, and the first thing he descried on nearing the parsonage was the missing horse! He had gone to a place fifteen or sixteen miles away to look for it, had slept on the veldt in spite of the drizzle, and all his trouble and discomfort had been thrown away. And yet for all that he turned up smiling, and seemed to think it an excellent joke. This imperturbability and kindliness of temper may have been in some degree inherited. His mother on one occasion had provided me with gome grass for thatching, value, I think, about eight shillings, and in due course came for the money. It so happened that I possessed at that time about one shilling, which dearly was not enough, so I was obliged to send out a message by Keta to express my great regret at being unable to pay her that day, and to promise that she should have the money as soon as I could get it. In a few minutes Keta came back with the words, "She gives you the grass, and asks if you can lend her threepence?" Needless to say that the shilling was shared with her without any lending.

When I was in England in 1886-7, shortly before my return I sent word to Keta that I was coming back again, and should be glad to have him once more. When I reached Ncolosi, he at once reappeared and fell into his old place. A Dutchman had, he told me, offered him work at far higher wages, but he had refused because "his white-man was coming back." He is now, thank God, baptized, and bears the name of Percy, and before long will, I hope, be confirmed and a communicant. For some time he has combined schooling with work, being in school from nine to one, and will, I trust, next year be drafted on to Umtata. After Sarai left in 1887, we managed without a housekeeper, such work as we could not do ourselves being done by Percy and a second boy, who was changed once or twice, until in October 1889 we settled down with Zityini, who came first as a servant, and then as a boarder-servant, and who is now a catechumen.

In pursuance of this subject I have travelled far beyond the date of which I had been speaking. To return to the years 1884-5, work other than that which I have briefly described above often entered into our daily routine. It is a commonplace of a missionary's work that he has to be a jack of all trades; and so, chiefly with the view of saving expense, the three boys and I tried our hand with more or less success at brickmaking, building, and fencing. Our erections were none of them very remarkable for beauty or symmetry; but the stable which we put up, the cross-wall and the chimney that we built, and the fencing round the garden, a great deal of which was done by us, are all standing still, which is a source of no little satisfaction.

Occasionally the even tenor of our life would be disturbed by an alarm of fire. In Kaffraria the grass is not utilised for hay, but is burnt off yearly, the ash making an excellent manure, so that, when the rain comes, the black burnt wastes are soon clothed with verdure. Where the burning is conducted under careful supervision there is little danger, unless a strong wind suddenly springs up; but sometimes the grass would be kindled far away, in carelessness or wantonness, and after it had burnt, perhaps, for a day, the fire would suddenly swoop down upon the mission, and then all the able-bodied men and boys had to be called out to extinguish it by beating it out with boughs or empty sacks steeped in water. One such occasion I recall in particular, on June 10, 1885. I had been out in the afternoon visiting some Pondomisi, and on my return home a little before evening was interviewed by the catechist, who reported that he and all the men had been hard at work all day trying to put out a fire which had come down over the hills, and had been unable to stop it, and that he thought nothing more could be done: the men were lying down on the grass exhausted. I sent him to rest for a little time, while I said evensong, and had a hurried tea, and then the boys and myself joined the natives, and made a fresh effort to save the mission buildings and kraals. After a very hard three hours' work, from 5.30 to 8.30, we were, by God's help, successful; but it was touch and go as far as one kraal was concerned, and if it had not been for a supply of water which there happened to be there, and which the women poured out on the fire and the grass, I think that it could not have been stopped. I measured the distance afterwards, and found that the fire had come within five yards of one of the huts.

The constant rides, also, were not always without their misadventures. There is a footpath, very narrow and broken, running up the hills behind S. Augustine's to the higher level of the Maclear country. Even in dry weather the path requires care, and it is necessary to lead the horse and not attempt to ride; in wet weather, when the grass and soil are slippery, it is positively dangerous. Coming home once from the upper country, I had started on this path before I knew that there had been so much rain, as I soon saw there evidently must have been, T To turn back was impossible; the path was far too narrow and far too slippery. Both the horse and I proceeded very cautiously down the descent until we reached a place where the path slightly divided for a short distance: as the right-hand path ran directly over a krantz of some twenty feet, I chose the upper one. No sooner had we got our feet upon it than I saw my mistake; we commenced almost at once to slip, and continued slipping slowly down over the whole space which intervened between the two paths. All I could do, while praying in my heart, was to tighten my grasp upon the bridle, and set my feet as firmly as possible. The prayer was heard, for just on the edge of the krantz, where it seemed impossible to stop, the horse and his master were brought up.

Sometimes the accident would be of a very ludicrous nature. The horse that I was riding during one of my journeys had a girth-gall, so that to avoid chafing the sore I put the girth round the horse's neck. It so happened that there was no crupper on the saddle, which was therefore kept in its place really only by my own weight. In going down a hill I recollected this, and sat very firmly in the saddle; but when we got to the bottom, and into a little stream which ran across the road, I forgot all about the girth, and let the horse put down his head to drink. In a moment I found myself sitting in the middle of the stream, still in the saddle, my feet in the stirrups, looking up in the horse's face. I must have turned a complete somersault in the air. It will be long before I forget the look of astonishment which my horse turned upon me for a few seconds, until he evidently came to the conclusion that this was only one of the Englishman's eccentricities, and resumed his drinking. My laughter was so hearty that it was some time before I could get out of the water, my one regret being that there had been no one with me to see the whole episode.

From time to time the Bishop came up to confirm at the different stations. His Lordship's visit was always made the occasion of a great function, and we were usually joined by several of the preachers at the various out-stations where the confirmations were held, the service beginning and ending with a procession, which was sometimes headed with a cross and banners. Our custom is to have the confirmation early in the morning, and not uhfrequently to combine it with a celebration, inserting the special service, as far as the actual confirmation, after the gospel, and the final prayers being introduced before the blessing. In 1884 there were 45 persons confirmed in the parish, and in 1885 92; the total number of Christians in the whole parish, including infants, being in the former year 697, in the latter 784.

Every quarter, all the Church workers from the different stations in the parish were gathered together, hospitality being provided for them by the missionary. They arrived on the Friday evening, and the proceedings commenced on the following day with a celebration of the Holy Communion and a special address for Church workers. After breakfast, a meeting, commonly lasting three or four hours, was held, at which reports were made, questions asked, instructions given, and subjects discussed, either of our own initiation, or referred to the various parishes by the Bishop. These meetings, which have, I believe, been brought to a considerable pitch of perfection in the older parishes in Tembuland and the Transkei, were found to be most useful.

Umditshwa, the paramount chief of this section of the Pondomisi tribe, had, as was previously related, been imprisoned on account of the war of 1880. His term of incarceration had nearly a year still to run in January 1884, for the sentence passed had been three years' imprisonment, without labour, from November 1881. His great son, i.e., the eldest son, not of the first wife, but of the great wife, who is selected by the tribe for the chief to marry, was at this time (1884) about fourteen years old. I very soon made the acquaintance of Mtshazi (for that was his name), and he used frequently to come to see me at Ncolosi. He and his sister, Nozici, were the only children of the great wife, Nogqili, daughter of the well-known Gcaleka chief, Sarili (Kreli). Umditshwa had many other sons by older wives, Zembe and Xomfana, who were both in hiding after the late war, Goniwe, who had been imprisoned also for his participation in it, and others.

In the end of this year the Pondomisi became a good deal excited about the return of Umditshwa, when he would arrive, how he would come, &c., and during November and December Goniwe and Mtshazi in particular often called to see me on the subject. On January 1, 1885, news came that the chief was really on his way up, and the next day both Mtshazi and Goniwe came separately to have a talk with me about it. On the 3rd, as I was dressing about 5.15 A.M., I was surprised by a knocking at my door; and, looking out, found these two again, who this time had come to report that Umditshwa had arrived the night before, and to ask for some coffee and sugar for him.

The very interesting episode of his return, and his relations to the mission, must be left to another chapter.

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