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Memories of Mashonaland

By G. W. H. Knight-Bruce
Sometime Bishop of Mashonaland

London and New York: Edward Arnold, 1895.

Chapter VIII. Khama.

Having put, fairly as I consider, the case for missions, it may be well to give a living instance of what missions have effected. May I produce Khama? [I may say that it was only while these pages were going through the press that I first heard that he was coming to England.] He is the chief of the Bamangwato, the people to the south-west of Mashonaland. He lives in the diocese of Mashonaland, so I have some right to bring him forward. Not that the Mashonaland mission has had anything to do with making him into what he now is; but when the boundaries of the diocese were fixed, his town, Palapye, was included in it.

Khama is, under God, a product of the Lutherans and the London Missionary Society. When I knew Khama, Mr. Hepbourn was their [182/183] resident minister at Shoshong; and he eventually moved with Khama to Palapye. He has been called 'an unaccountable outcrop of mental power and integrity'; so it may be argued that he is not a fair instance to bring. The 'mental power' in itself we do not bring forward as being the result of his Christianity; though it could be brought as evidence to show that the higher class of African mind is drawn towards Christianity. As to the 'integrity,' it would be impossible to prove that he would not have had the same integrity, and acted contrary to all precedent, had he remained a heathen; but as an apparent cause for this integrity, so uncommon among African chiefs, exists, it is not unnatural that we should connect cause and effect.

We claim that, allowing for his natural abilities, Khama is what he is mainly because he is a Christian. Able though he may be, it is not his ability which is the most striking feature in his career. It is his uprightness, honour, kindness, godliness. There have been plenty of able African chiefs, as Chaka, the Zulu; Umziligazi, the founder of the Matabele nation; Moshesh, the Mosuto; but there has never before been a Khama in Southern [183/184] Africa. They may have been his equals, possibly his superiors, in brain-power, energy, and ability--'vixere fortes ante Agamemnona '--but Khama is something more.

Nor can we see that he has lost any of those qualities that commend themselves to us in an untamed savage by becoming a Christian. I once asked him whether he thought that those of his soldiers who were Christians were the worse soldiers for it. He said that they would not be of the same value for raiding purposes; but to defend his country he considered that they were of just as much value. And so with him. He would no longer harry the nations around him as Umziligazi did, because he would not think it right; but that he was able to hold his own even against the Matabele is sufficient evidence that there has been no degeneration.

But, after all, the best argument is evidence; and as this has been collected from Blue-Books and other sources in 'Khama: An African Chief,' I shall do best by quoting this book, and using its evidence. [By Mrs. Wyndham Knight-Bruce. Published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner and Co.] These notes on Khama are practically all taken from it. Anyone who [184/185] wishes to know more about Khama I refer to the book itself.

We begin with the prosaic Parliamentary Blue-Book. Lieutenant Haynes, R.E., reported:

'Khama's authority is well established, and he rules the tribe more by kindness than by severity. He is probably the best example of what a black man can become by means of a good disposition and of Christianity.'

Further on Lieutenant Maund wrote:

'He rules by generosity instead of by fear. Cool in danger, and thoroughly self-possessed at all times, his very taking manners would win golden opinions in any society.' ['Further Correspondence respecting the Transvaal and Adjacent Territories.' 1886.]

Another wrote:

'Of Khama's splendid character I cannot speak too highly.'

It may be interesting to see what led up to these results. I will quote from the book that I first referred to:

'Khama was probably born soon after 1830. He was one of the many sons of the many wives of Sekhome, chief of the Bamangwato, and his heir. As a boy, he twice touched the [185/186] wider world: he went for a hunting season with Gordon Gumming, of whose courage he still speaks with admiration; and he heard from a wandering Bechuana that strange new customs were being taught in the south by Dr. Moffat. Then a Lutheran missionary reached Shoshong, which was part of the unknown interior in those days; he pleased Sekhome, and was allowed to teach the chiefs sons. Khama readily accepted Christianity, and was baptized while still a boy in his teens. The quiet life, during which Khama remained a pupil of the missionaries, must have lasted for some time. He married, and his wife Mabisa was also a Christian.

'But in 1862 a native runner brought in the news that Matabele impis were out on the foray, and that they were coming to raid Shoshong. Like the descents of Danes on East Anglian farms, these attacks of the Matabele were the terror of the poor Bamangwato. And no wonder, for the Matabele are the great fighting race of those parts, brought up to slaughter and rejoicing in blood. Neither men, women, nor babies were spared by their assegais. ... So the poor Bechuana hurried their wives and children into caves among [186/187] the hills, drove their herds into the best concealment they could, and then with little hope brought out their small supply of cheap guns.

'Sekhome turned to the supernatural, as we most of us do in trouble, and plunged into incantations with the witch-doctors.

'It was certainly a trial between the old and the new faith, but Khama did not hesitate. He knelt in prayer with his fellow-Christians under the bright African moon, urged Sekhome to stop the witchcraft, and asked for leave to start at once to meet the Matabele. Obtaining it, he chose two hundred men from his own regiment, and after a long day's march came upon the Matabele at sunset. His vigorous charge broke two of their companies, but the third stole past in the high grass and attacked him in the rear. Beaten though he was then, the fight had been severe enough to make the Matabele retreat, to prevent the threatened raid, and to win from their brave old warrior-chief Moselikatse (Umziligazi) the verdict:

'"Khama is a man. There is no other man among the Bamangwato."

'"To-day, those who pray to God are our [187/188] leaders!" shouted the people, as they welcomed Khama back to Shoshong. . . .

'After the Matabele affair was over the celebration of certain heathen rites began, to which every Bechuana father takes his sons. Khama knew that as a Christian he could not go. Sekhome ordered, begged, got angry, and at last said that no son should be his heir who would not attend the "Bogura." When this threat did not move Khama, Sekhome understood that this new religion was not a mere matter of reading and singing, but of practical life.' ['Khama: An African Chief,' p. 10.]

Then came the inevitable struggle on the question of Khama taking another wife, according to the custom of the Bechuana. Sekhome ordered it; Khama refused. Sekhome tried plots and treachery; Khama met them with patience, never once blaming his father. A traveller who was at Shoshong at the time writes about him:

'I am glad, by my acquaintance with Khama, to have the opportunity of mentioning a black man whom I would under no circumstances be ashamed to call my friend. The simple, modest, and at the same time noble deportment [188/189] of this chief's son awoke a delightful feeling.' ['Drei Yähre in Süd Afrika.' Von Gustav Fritsch Breslau, 1868.]

Then followed a struggle between brute force and superstition on the one side, and patient endurance and Christianity on the other. Sekhome ordered his men to kill Khama, but they refused. The people rose in favour of Khama, and Sekhome fled in terror. Khama sent messengers after him to ask him to come back again as chief. When he did come back Khama received him with every mark of respect, and replaced him in power.

Then Sekhome tried to bring supernatural powers to bear on Khama. This did not affect the loyalty of the people to Khama, but his not using counteracting witchcraft did shake it. He said that the Word of God forbade him to curse anyone, least of all his own father, and that he would not use witchcraft. So the people deserted him, and he had to take refuge in the mountains, and live as best he could.

Then Sekhome tried sending for a rival claimant to the chieftainship, and offering to resign in his favour if he would kill Khama. This the man was quite ready to do till he [189/190] had heard the other side of the question in Shoshong, after which he is reported to have said: 'The people of the Word of God alone speak the truth. If you want your son killed, kill him yourself.' Then he headed a revolt against Sekhome, and drove him out of Shoshong.

Sekhome, knowing he had no soldier equal to Khama, sent for him. Khama won back Shoshong for his father, and reinstated him; but, seeing no lasting peace could exist, he took his own followers away to the north, and lived there till his father died.

Then Khama's younger brother, Khamanie, tried to hold Shoshong against him, but failed. The following extracts from the Blue-Book may throw some light on this, his last struggle among his own people:

'Khamanie has been for many years engaged in plots having for their object the death of Khama, and the establishment of himself as chief. On one occasion Khama spared his brother's life without apparently securing exemption from further treasonable attempts by him.' ['Bechuanaland.' Blue-Book, 1888.]

Lieutenant Haynes, R.E., reports: 'Khama's [190/191] treatment of his rebellious brother has been chivalric in the extreme.'

So he ruled in his own country, and he ruled in the fear of the Lord. I quote again:

'"What the chiefs do, the people will do," he said to Bishop Knight -Bruce, and on this belief he acts, with the decision taught by his own hard training.' He began his reign by unpopular measures. He forbade witchcraft, and banished the witch-doctors. The witchdoctors had charms against evil, and were supposed to detect or 'smell out' the person who had caused trouble by bewitching; and this unhappy person was often treated with horrible cruelty or even killed. This 'smelling out' system got rid of any rich or troublesome offenders to the benefit of both the chief and the witch-doctor.

Then Khama stopped judicial cruelty and murders. It was common among the Bechuana to kill children that were born weakly or deformed, to bury a living baby with a dead mother, to kill one of twin children, to mutilate, or burn out the eyes as a punishment. These customs he stopped. Death he allowed to be inflicted for murder only, and he brought in a system of trial by jury.

[192] A third reform was the prevention of cruelty to the slave races, the Bushmen. They could be kept in abject poverty, as they had no right to keep herds; or they could be killed by their masters. This Khama changed. A man who knew the country well writes:

'Khama is quick to punish any of their masters--his own people--whom he finds guilty of cruelty towards them.' [F. Johnson, Cape Argus, August 24, 1888.]

A fourth reform in the light of modern African history is a most important one. The first part of it is open to criticism. He forbade the making of the native beer from fermented corn, and all 'beer-drinkings.' The people hated the measure. 'I withstood my people at the risk of my life,' he said. Mr. Bent, in 'The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland,' writes:

'Any who knows the love of a Kaffir for his porridge-like beer, and his occasional orgies, will understand what a power one man must have to stop this in a whole tribe. But Khama replies: "Beer is the sower of all quarrels and disputes. I will stop it." ['The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland,' by Theodore Bent, F.S.A., F.R.G.S.]

[193] It took years to make the law effective. I quote again from 'Khama: An African Chief: 'When we were at Shoshong the perfect order and quietness of the crowded town, with its twenty thousand natives, were a striking contrast to scenes one remembered in other places, where either the canteen vote was valuable, or the chiefs were heathen. "It would require no police," says our Blue-Book, "to manage the native part of the town. By his determination and courage Khama has put down strong drink, and prevented traders bringing it into his country."'

The last words touched the second part of his reform. It was to prevent traders bringing drink into his country. So he summoned a meeting of all the white men in the place, and of representatives of his own people. This is the evidence of a trader who was present:

'Khama informed us that he would not permit us to continue introducing liquor into the town, and selling it to his people. Seeing we had been accustomed to the use of it ourselves, he would permit it to us. Any breach of this law he would visit by banishment from his town. He then turned to his tribe, and warned them that this law was not only for the [194/195] whites, but for them, and if they were detected buying liquor from the traders he should deprive them of their cattle, and banish them also from the town. The meeting then broke up. The following year, I think, another meeting was called by the chief. He informed us that he found we were bringing in liquor in as large quantities as ever. He regretted having to speak a second time, and having granted us permission to bring in liquor for our own consumption, he must now prohibit it.' [Blue-Book: 'Affairs of Bechuanaland.' 1890. Evidence of W. A. Musson.]

But before he could gain his point he had to turn two traders out of his country. One whose opinion would hardly be disputed wrote:

'Khama gave the men very lenient and considerate treatment, including an extension of eighteen months in which to wind up their affairs. He even went so far as to pay out of his own pocket many outstanding debts due to the firm from some of his poorer subjects.' [Blue-Book: Report by Sir Sydney Shippard, K.C.M.G., Administrator of Bechuanaland.]

Khama gave as his reason for this action that his people would be destroyed if they were allowed to buy brandy. And again I must [194/195] remind people that it is not on total abstinence lines that this question is to be fought out. Those who oppose the drink traffic of Africa can do it on the ground that the quantity or quality of the drink is such that a chief can speak about his people being destroyed by it; and one tribe can say that they hear the young chiefs of another tribe are being killed by it.

Then, after some complications had arisen in connection with this, Khama himself wrote to the Administrator:

'Your Honour will permit me to point out that it is not the same thing to offer my country to Her Majesty to be occupied by English settlers--Her Majesty's subjects governed by Her Majesty's ministers--and to allow men so worthless and unscrupulous as ... to come outside of all governments, and flood my country with their drink, after all the long struggle I have made against it, withstanding my people at the risk of my life, and just when they have themselves come to see how great a salvation my drink laws have proved to be. It were better for me that I should lose my country than that it should be flooded with drink. ... I fear Lobengula (the Matabele chief) less than I fear brandy. I fought [195/196] Lobengula and drove him back, and he never came again, and God who helped me then would help me again. Lobengula never gives me a sleepless night. But to fight against drink is to fight against demons, and not against men. I dread the white man's drink more than the assegais of the Matabele, which kill men's bodies, and is quickly over; but drink puts devils into men, and destroys both their souls and their bodies for ever. Its wounds never heal. I pray your Honour never to ask me to open even a little door to the drink; and . . . desires that, and has always desired it. That has been my constant battle with his firm.'

Eventually Khama wrote a letter in drawing up a treaty at the end of the negotiations, of which this is a part:

'I give thanks for the words of the Queen, and I give to the Queen to make laws and to change them in the country of the Bamangwato. Nevertheless, I am not baffled in the government of my own town, or in deciding cases among my own people according to custom. There are certain laws of my country which the Queen of England finds in operation which are advantageous to my people, and I [196/197] wish that these laws should not be taken away. I refer to our law concerning intoxicating drinks, that they should not enter the country of the Bamangwato whether among black people or white people. I refer, further, to our law which declares that the lands of the Bamangwato are not saleable. I say, let this law be upheld among black people and white people.'

Further on, after saying he is willing that the English people should come and live in his country, and should turn it into their cultivated fields and cattle stations, so long as his people are not prevented from hunting, except where the English live, he continues:

'But I feel that I am speaking to gentlemen of the Government of England. Shall I be afraid that they will requite me with witchcraft? (i.e., deception). . . . Further, I shall be ready, along with my people, to go out all of us to fight for the country alongside the English; to stop them who attack, or to go after them on the spoor. . . . Having done this, without doubt if there came a great difficulty, we would appeal for the help of our Queen in England. The right kind of English settler will be seen by his doings on his place.'

It will not be a pleasing sequel to this if we [197/198] ever see his country divided into holdings for Europeans and the place flooded with drink.

A little incident to show the gentleness of the man is told us:

'At one time a small refugee people in his country, the Saleika, became troublesome, and Khama received responsible advice to suppress the discontent at once, as the Saleika were trying to get help from the Transvaal. He reluctantly agreed, and marched against them with a large force, accompanied by a few men of the Border Police, one of whom gave me the account. The Saleika stronghold was on a high rock standing alone in the centre of a circle of hills. The Bamangwato attacked with a rush, but the moment they had taken the place, Khama stopped the fighting, and allowed the Saleika to escape unpursued. Messengers were sent after them with promises of safety, and with an offer of waggons for their women and children to take them over the border to the Transvaal, where they had intended to settle if defeated.'

Khama is doing his best, as every good missionary does, to make the lazy men of a tribe work. It is hard to break through the [198/199] traditions that women are made to work, and men are made to fight and talk. By great tact in dealing with the question he is establishing a right principle, largely, as it seems, by the introduction of the plough drawn by oxen, which takes the place of the hoe wielded by a woman. He insists on his people being honest.

'Not only,' says Mr. Bent, 'has Khama established his own reputation for honesty--he is supposed to have inoculated all his people with the same virtue. But, on the other hand, he does all he can to prevent his people being cheated by unscrupulous traders; so he has fixed the price for some of the very ordinary articles of commerce. And again, those in need he helps himself; as Lieutenant Haynes reported, 'Khama spends a great part of his revenue in acts of kindness to his people.' [Blue Book: Bechuanaland, 1888.]

When the water-supply ran short at Shoshong, he moved the whole population north to Palapye; so that now, as I have said, he lives in the Mashonaland diocese, though not within the territory under the control of the British South Africa Company. However, in the Matabele war, Khama joined the Bechuanaland Border Police, with 130 mounted men, [199/200] and between 1,700 and 1,800 dismounted men, who were to receive a shilling a day and rations. He was with the Bechuanaland Border Police during their only engagement on this march, and then, hearing that small-pox had broken out among his own people, he left them and went home. I dare say his action could be criticised; but he carried out his unchanging policy of thinking of his own people first. It was an English officer who once called him 'a Christian and a hero;' and I do not think we shall get truer names for him.

Now, as Khama has done what he has for his people, it is not too much for him to expect that he shall be allowed to go on doing it in his own way. It is impossible to imagine any change in the government of his country at all likely to take place which would not be for the worse. It is quite true that it may be better for wild, heathen natives, under a heathen chief, to come under European control, but I think everyone who knows anything of the conditions in Bechuanaland, and wishes well to Khama and his people, would very much prefer that these people should remain under their own laws.

When looking at these notes on Khama's [200/201] life, it would be well if it were constantly borne in mind that this man is one of the natives whom some would wish us to believe are injured by being made into Christians. From such an assertion it is encouraging to turn to the words of Edna Lyall:

'The full significance of such a life as that of Khama, lived in the midst of temptations and troubles, can hardly fail to impress all who carefully study the details of his career. He seems to us a most convincing argument that Christianity meets the needs of all ages and of all conditions, and his story will wonderfully cheer those who work on but see little result from their labour--those who sow that others may reap.' [Preface to 'Khama: An African Chief.']

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