1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kaffirs

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KAFFIRS (Arabic Kafir, an unbeliever), a name given by the Arabs to the native races of the east coast of Africa. The term was current along the east coast at the arrival of the Portuguese, and passed from them to the Dutch and English, and to the natives themselves under the form of Kafula. There are no general or collective national names for these peoples, and the various tribal divisions are mostly designated by historical or legendary chiefs, founders of dynasties or hereditary chieftaincies. The term has no real ethnological value, for the Kaffirs have no national unity. To-day it is used to describe that large family of Bantu negroes inhabiting the greater part of the Cape, the whole of Natal and Zululand, and the Portuguese dominions on the east coast south of the Zambezi. The name is also loosely applied to any negro inhabitant of South Africa. For example, the Bechuana of the Transvaal and Orange Free State are usually called Kaffirs.

The Kaffirs are divisible into two great branches: the Ama-Zulu with the Ama-Swazi and Ama-Tonga and the Kaffirs proper, represented by the Ama-Xosa, the Tembu (q.v.) and the Pondo (q.v.). Hence the compound term Zulu-Kaffir applied in a collective sense to all the Kaffir peoples. Intermediate between these two branches were several broken tribes now collectively known as Ama-Fengu, i.e. “wanderers” or “needy” people, from fenguza, to seek service[1] (see Fingo).

The ramifications of the Kaffirs proper cannot be understood without reference to the national genealogies, most of the tribal names, as already stated, being those of real or reputed founders of dynasties. Thus the term Ama-Xosa means simply the “people of Xosa,” a somewhat mythical chief supposed to have flourished about the year 1530. Ninth in descent from his son Toguh was Palo, who died about 1780, leaving two sons, Gcaleka and Rarabe (pronounced Kha-Kha-bē), from whom came the Ama-Gcaleka, Ama-Dhlambe (T’slambies) and the Ama-Ngquika (Gaika or Sandili’s people). The Pondo do not descend from Xosa, but probably from an elder brother, while the Tembu, though apparently representing a younger branch, are regarded by all the Kaffir tribes as the royal race. Hence the Gcaleka chief, who is the head of all the Ama-Xosa tribes, always takes his first or “great wife” from the Tembu royal family, and her issue alone have any claim to the succession. The subjoined genealogical tree will place Kaffir relations in a clearer light:—

It will be seen that, as representing the elder branch, the Gcaleka stand apart from the rest of Xosa’s descendants, whom they group collectively as Ama-Rarabe (Ama-Khakhabe), and whose genealogies, except in the case of the Gaikas and T’slambies, are very confused. The Ama-Xosa country lies mainly between the Keiskama and Umtata rivers.

The Zulu call themselves Abantu ba-Kwa-Zulu, i.e. “people of Zulu’s land,” or briefly Bakwa-Zulu, from a legendary chief Zulu, founder of the royal dynasty. They were originally an obscure tribe occupying the basin of the Umfolosi river, but rose suddenly to power under Chaka,[2] who had been brought up among the neighbouring and powerful Umtetwas, and who succeeded the chiefs of that tribe and of his own in the beginning of the 19th century. But the true mother tribe seems to have been the extinct Ama-Ntombela, whence the Ama-Tefulu, the U’ndwande, U’mlelas, U’mtetwas and many others, all absorbed or claiming to be true Zulus. But they are only so by political subjection, and the gradual adoption of the Zulu dress, usages and speech. Hence in most cases the term Zulu implies political rather than blood relationship. This remark applies also to the followers of Mosilikatze (properly Umsilikazi), who, after a fierce struggle with the Bechuana, founded about 1820 a second Zulu state about the head waters of the Orange river. In 1837 most of them were driven northwards by the Boers and are now known as Matabele.

The origin of the Zulu-Kaffir race has given rise to much controversy. It is obvious that they are not the aborigines of their present domain, whence in comparatively recent times—since the beginning of the 16th century—they have displaced the Hottentots and Bushmen of fundamentally distinct stock. They themselves are conscious of their foreign origin. Yet they are closely allied in speech (see Bantu Languages) and physique to the surrounding Basuto, Bechuana and other members of the great South African Negroid family. Hence their appearance in the south-east corner of the continent is sufficiently explained by the gradual onward movement of the populations pressing southward on the Hottentot and Bushman domain. The specific differences in speech and appearance by which they are distinguished from the other branches of the family must in the same way be explained by the altered conditions of their new habitat. Hence it is that the farther they have penetrated southwards the farther have they become differentiated from the pure Negro type. Thus the light and clear brown complexion prevalent amongst the southern Tembu becomes gradually darker as we proceed northwards, passing at last to the blue-black and sepia of the Ama-Swazi and Tekeza. Even many of the mixed Fingo tribes are of a polished ebony colour, like that of the Jolofs and other Senegambian negroes. The Kaffir hair is uniformly of a woolly texture. The head is dolichocephalic, but it is also high or long vertically,[3] and it is in this feature of hypsistenocephaly (height and length combined) that the Kaffir presents the most striking contrast with the pure Negro. But, the nose being generally rather broad[4] and the lips thick, the Kaffir face, though somewhat oval, is never regular in the European sense, the deviations being normally in the direction of the Negro, with which race the peculiar odour of the skin again connects the Kaffirs. In stature they rank next to the Patagonians, Polynesians and West Africans, averaging from 5 ft. 9 in. to 5 ft. 11 in., and even 6 ft.[5] They are slim, well-proportioned and muscular. Owing to the hard life they lead, the women are generally inferior in appearance to the men, except amongst the Zulu, and especially the Tembu. Hence in the matrimonial market, while the Ama-Xosa girl realizes no more than ten or twelve head of cattle, the Tembu belle fetches as many as forty, and if especially fine even eighty.

The more warlike tribes were usually arrayed in leopard or ox skins, of late years generally replaced by European blankets, with feather head-dresses, coral and metal ornaments, bead armlets and necklaces. The Makua and a few others practise tattooing, and the Ama-Xosa are fond of painting or smearing their bodies with red ochre. Their arms consist chiefly of ox-hide shields 4 to 6 ft. long, the kerrie or club, and the assegai, of which there are two kinds, one long, with 9-in. narrow blade, for throwing, the other short, with broad blade 12 to 18 in. long, for stabbing. The dwellings are simple conical huts grouped in kraals or villages. Although cattle form their chief wealth, and hunting and stock-breeding their main pursuits, many have turned to husbandry. The Zulu raise regular crops of “mealies” (maize), and the Pondo cultivate a species of millet, tobacco, water melons, yams and other vegetables. Milk (never taken fresh), millet and maize form the staples of food, and meat is seldom eaten except in time of war.

A young Kaffir attains man’s estate socially, not at puberty, but upon his marriage. Polygyny is the rule and each wife is regarded as adding dignity to the household. Marriage is by purchase, the price being paid in cattle. Upon the husband’s death family life is continued under the headship of the eldest son of the house, the widows by virtue of levirate becoming the property of the uncle or nearest males, not sons. A son inherits and honourably liquidates, if he can, his father’s debts.

Mentally the Kaffirs are superior to the Negro. In their social and political relations they display great tact and intelligence; they are remarkably brave, warlike and hospitable, and were honest and truthful until through contact with the whites they became suspicious, revengeful and thievish, besides acquiring most European vices. Of religion as ordinarily understood they have very little, and have certainly never developed any mythologies or dogmatic systems. It is more than doubtful whether they had originally formed any notion of a Supreme Being. Some conception, however, of a future state is implied by a strongly developed worship of ancestry, and by a belief in spirits and ghosts to whom sacrifices are made. There are no idols or priests, but belief in witchcraft formerly gave the “witch-doctor” or medicine-man overwhelming power.[6] Circumcision and polygyny are universal; the former is sometimes attributed to Mahommedan influences, but has really prevailed almost everywhere in East Africa from the remotest time.

Dearer than anything else to the Kaffir are his cattle; and many ceremonial observances in connexion with them were once the rule. Formerly ox-racing was a common sport, the oxen running, riderless, over a ten-mile course. The owner of a champion racing ox was a popular hero, and these racers were valued at hundreds of head of cattle. Cattle are the currency of the Kaffirs in their wild state. Ten to twenty head are the price of a wife. When a girl marries, her father (if well off) presents her with a cow from his herd. This animal is called ubulungu or “doer of good” and is regarded as sacred. It must never be killed nor may its descendants, as long as it lives. A hair of its tail is tied round the neck of each child immediately after birth. In large kraals there is the “dancing-ox,” usually of red colour. Its horns are trained to peculiar shapes by early mutilations. It figures in many ceremonies when it is paid a kind of knee-worship.

The Kaffirs have three, not four, seasons: “Green Heads,” “Kindness” and “Cutting”; the first and last referring to the crops, the second to the “warm weather.” Women and children only eat after the men are satisfied. A light beer made from sorghum is the national drink.

Of the few industries the chief are copper and iron smelting, practised by the Tembu, Zulu and Swazi, who manufacture weapons, spoons and agricultural implements both for their own use and for trade. The Swazi display some taste in wood-carving, and others prepare a peculiar water-tight vessel of grass. Characteristic of this race is their neglect of the art of navigation. Not the smallest boats are ever made for crossing the rivers, much less for venturing on the sea, except by the Makazana of Delagoa Bay and by the Zambezi people, who have canoes and flat-bottomed boats made of planks.

The Kaffir race had a distinct and apparently very old political system, which may be described as a patriarchal monarchy limited by a powerful aristocracy. Under British rule the tribal independence of the Kaffirs has disappeared. Varying degrees of autonomy have been granted, but the supreme powers of the chiefs have gone, the Swazi being in 1904 the last to be brought to order. In the Transkeian Territories tribal organization exists, but it is modified by special legislation and the natives are under the control of special magistrates. To a considerable extent in Natal and throughout Zululand the Kaffirs are placed in reserves, where tribal organization is kept up under European supervision. In Basutoland the tribal organization is very strong, and the power of chiefs is upheld by the imperial government, which exercises general supervision.

See Gustav Fritsch, Die Eingeborenen Südafrikas, with atlas, 30 plates and 120 typical heads (Breslau, 1872); W. H. I. Bleek, Comparative Grammar of the South African Languages (London and Cape Town, pt. i., 1862; pt. ii., 1869); Theo. Hahn, Grundzüge einer Grammatik des Herero (Berlin, 1857); Dr Colenso, Grammar of the Zulu-Kafir Language (1855); Girard de Rialle, Les Peuples de l’Afrique et de l’Amérique (Paris, 1880); G. W. Stow, The Native Races of South Africa (London, 1905); G. McC. Theal, History and Ethnography of South Africa, 1505 to 1795 (3 vols., London, 1907–1910) and History of South Africa since 1795 (5 vols., London, 1908), specially valuable for the political history of the Kaffirs; Caesar C. Henkel, The Native or Transkeian Territories (Hamburg, 1903); The Natives of South Africa (1901), and its sequel, The South African Natives (1908); Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (1904) and Kafir Socialism. The last four books deal with the many social and economic questions raised by the contact of the Kaffir races with Europeans.

  1. The Ama-Fengu are regarded both by the Zulu and Ama-Xosa as slaves or out-castes, without any right to the privileges of true-born Kaffirs. Any tribes which become broken and mixed would probably be regarded as Ama-Fengu by the other Kaffirs. Hence the multiplicity of clans, such as the Ama-Bele, Aba-Sembotweni Ama-Zizi, Ama-Kuze, Aba-Sekunene, Ama-Ntokaze, Ama-Tetyeni Aba-Shwawa, &c., all of whom are collectively grouped as Ama-Fengu.
  2. Seventh in descent from Zulu, through Kumede, Makeba, Punga, Ndaba, Yama and Tezengakona or Senzangakona (Bleek, Zulu Legends).
  3. P. Topinard, Anthropology (1878), p. 274.
  4. This feature varies considerably, “in the T’slambie tribes being broader and more of the Negro shape than in the Gaika or Gcaleka, while among the Ama-Tembu and Ama-Mpondo it assumes more of the European character. In many of them the perfect Grecian and Roman noses are discernible” (Fleming’s Kaffraria, p. 92).
  5. Gustav Fritsch gives the mean of the Ama-Xosa as 1.718 metres, less than that of the Guinea Negro (1.724), but more than the English (1.708) and Scotch (1.710).
  6. Since the early years of the 19th century Protestant and Roman Catholic missions have gained hundreds of thousands of converts among the Kaffirs. Purely native Christian churches have also been organized.