Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/109
DOMESTIC ARTS IN DAMARALAND..
By Rev. C. G. BÜTTNER.
THE peoples with whom missionaries have occasion to become acquainted in Damaraland belong to different races; and the materials for a fair ethnological museum might easily be collected at any of the more important places. The agricultural Ovambos and the nomadic Hereros and Ovambandierus belong to the Bantu race, the Namaquas and Bushmen to the yellow Hottentot stock, while the tribe called the mountain Damaras are a black people of doubtful origin. But although these peoples differ variously in their manners and customs, yet the general circumstances of their life are such that they exhibit only a few differences in their technical accomplishments and trade usages. The desert character of the country, which furnishes only scanty means of subsistence, compels a certain meagerness in all that the people undertake. They are contented to have their simplest wants satisfied, and have never found or aspired after elegance. This part of Africa had, moreover, till a few decades ago, preserved its exclusiveness for hundreds and thousands of years. The rainless desert coast offered nothing attractive to the sailor, and even when one had landed on the shore it was almost impossible to penetrate through the wilderness to the interior. As the trade from the interior of the continent likewise hardly reached here, we have to do in this region with a people who until very recently had lived from a remote epoch cut off from the rest of the world. The natives of Damaraland are thus to a certain extent analogous with those primitive people who in prehistoric times lived, as hunters and fishers, in the northern woods, and fought out the struggle for existence in the rudest simplicity.
Little that is really artistic is to be found among them. Vessels are made by every tribe in its peculiar traditional form, by which their origin can be determined at once, and are decorated with a likewise stereotyped zigzag design, which is traced on iron articles with a chisel, and on wooden ones with a burning sharp stick. We may also add that the Bushmen, who are apparently in the lowest degree of civilization, have painted upon the rocks, in both ancient and recent times, hunting scenes representing all kinds of game and hunters in various situations, which betoken considerable talent in grasping and setting forth typical forms. These designs might, in fact, be regarded as works of more civilized Europeans, were it not that they were found in such various parts of the country, and that they were so much alike in their most peculiar features.
One of the striking characteristics of South African art is its deficiency in the perception of the straight and of the right angle. Everything that the people make comes from their hands bent and