Lake Ngami/Chapter 11

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Schmelen's Hope.—Scenery.—Missionary Station.—Raid of the Namaquas.—Ingratitude of the Natives.—Jonker's Feud with Kahichenè; his Barbarities; his Treachery.—Mr. Galton departs for Eikams.—Author's successful sporting Excursions.—He captures a young Steinbok and a Koodoo.—They are easily domesticated.—Hyænas very troublesome; several destroyed by Spring-guns.—The latter described.—Visit from a Leopard; it wounds a Dog; Chase and Death of the Leopard.—The Caracal.

Schmelen's Hope is picturesquely situated on the right bank of the Little Swakop, and just at the confluence of one of its tributaries, the banks of which were lined with majestic trees of the mimosa and the acacia family. Some of these were now in full bloom, and presented an interesting and beautiful appearance. Heavy showers of rain, moreover, having lately fallen, the grateful earth acknowledged the tribute by rapidly sending forth her boundless store of aromatic herbs and plants—

"Herbs for man's use of various power,
That either food or physic yield."

The whole aspect of the country changed as if by magic, and I gazed on the altered features of the landscape in rapture and amazement. It strongly reminded me of the Psalmist's words—

"His rains from heaven parch'd hills recruit,
That soon transmit the liquid store,
Till earth is burden'd with her fruit,
And Nature's lap can hold no more."

Schmelen's Hope (Schmelen's Vervachtung) is so called, partly on account of its advanced position, and partly in honor of its founder, the Rev. Mr. Schmelen, who, by all accounts, was one of the most gifted and most enterprising of missionaries that ever set foot on African soil. For a time this station was occupied by Mr. Hahn, and recently by his colleague, Mr. Kolbé. About the time that we landed at Walfisch Bay, however, the latter had found it necessary to beat a precipitate retreat, in consequence of an attack upon the station by a party of Namaquas.

Shortly after Mr. Kolbé's settlement at Schmelen's Hope he was joined by Kahichenè—of whom mention has been made in the foregoing pages—and a considerable number of his tribe. They continued to live here in the most unsuspecting security. The missionary cause made considerable progress, and hopes were really entertained that Damara-land might eventually be civilized. The golden visions of a happy future for this unfortunate country were, however, speedily dispersed by the sudden appearance of a party of Namaquas, under the immediate command of Jonker Afrikander. By this band a great number of natives were massacred; a considerable booty of cattle was carried off; and Kahichenè himself had a hairbreadth escape. Just as he was making good his retreat, he was observed and followed by a mounted Namaqua. On finding himself hard pressed, and that it was impossible to avoid his pursuer, the chief turned quickly round, and the next instant, with a poisoned arrow, laid the man dead at his feet.

Many acts of great cruelty were perpetrated on this occasion, of which the following may be cited. Several Damaras had taken refuge on the summit of an isolated rock eighty or ninety feet in height. As soon as the Namaquas perceived them, they coolly seated themselves round the base, and, whenever any of the poor fellows peeped forth from their hiding-places, they were shot like so many crows. Mr. Galton and myself visited the spot soon after our arrival at Schmelen's Hope, and saw the bleached bones of the victims scattered about, but we were unable to ascertain the exact number of people killed, as the jackals and the hyænas had carried away and demolished many parts of the skeletons.

Though no direct attack was made on the missionary station on this occasion, Mr. Kolbé nevertheless considered it would be imprudent to remain there any longer. Accordingly, packing the most valuable of his goods on his wagon, he hurriedly departed for Barmen.

A few days afterward, some fugitive Damaras returned to the place of their misfortunes, and, on finding the house abandoned, they were base enough to despoil it of its contents. Moreover, what they could not themselves use they wantonly destroyed or scattered about on the ground. On our arrival at Schmelen's Hope, therefore, we found nothing remaining but the mere shell of the house. This, though simply constructed of clay, and thatched with reeds, was rather neatly executed, and had apparently, at one time, been the exterior of a comfortable dwelling.

Water was obtained from a large pool or vley, which, however, in very arid years, might dry away. About five miles up the Swakop was, moreover, a rather copious fountain, called Okandu, where cattle might drink.

Generally speaking, if they have a chance of obtaining cattle, the Namaquas are not at all nice as to whether they rob friend or foe. On this particular occasion, however, they were supposed to have had an old grudge against Kahichenè and his tribe. Once, as Jonker and a large party of his followers were on the way to Walfisch Bay, their provisions failed them, and hearing that Kahichenè, with whom they were then on friendly terms, was in the neighborhood, they bent their steps toward his kraal. Kahichenè received them civilly, but refused to supply their wants. He, however, advised Jonker to help himself to cattle from another Damara chief, who, he said (though without any kind of foundation), was their mutual enemy. Jonker did not wait to be told twice, but immediately attacked this man's kraal. In the fight that ensued, some of Kahichanè's people were accidentally killed; but he, believing the slaughter had been intentionally perpetrated, made a furious onset on Jonker that very night. As usually happens, however, and perhaps in some degree owing to the Damaras having fewer guns than the Namaquas, he was beaten off with very severe loss. Though the affair was afterward made up between the chiefs, Jonker, in his heart, never forgave Kahichenè's attack upon him, which he looked upon as a breach of faith.

In all the attacks of the Namaquas the most atrocious barbarities were committed. The men were unmercifully shot down; the hands and the feet of the women lopped off; the bowels of the children ripped up, &c.; and all this to gratify a savage thirst for blood. Many poor creatures have I myself seen dragging out a miserable existence that had thus been deprived of limbs or otherwise cruelly mutilated.

Jonker himself would seem to have been callous to all the better feelings of our nature. News having been brought to him on one occasion of the loss of a merchant vessel (somewhere about Cape Cross), he and his men started in search of the wreck. Before reaching it, some of his cattle were stolen, and as the theft was conjectured to have been committed by the Damaras, Jonker sent for the chief of the suspected tribe, received him in a friendly way, and invited him to remain at his camp for the night, in the course of which, however, he caused him to be brutally murdered. Before expiring, the poor fellow requested permission to see his wife and children, but Jonker was inhuman enough to refuse his request. On receiving a denial, the unfortunate man turned toward his slayer, and, wiping the blood from his face, exclaimed, "Since you have dealt thus treacherously by me, and even refused to allow me to see my family, you shall, never prosper; and my cattle, which I well know you covet, shall be a curse to you!"

It has been asserted that Jonker once contemplated the extermination of all grown men among the Damaras, and of dividing the women, the children, and the cattle among his own people, hoping thereby to make his tribe the most powerful in that part of Africa.

On the 16th of January Mr. Galton started for Eikhams, the residence of Jonker Afrikaner, on his mission of peace. He was accompanied by Hans, John Mortar, and two or three native servants.

Two days later, the mules, though closely watched, managed to elude our vigilance and make good their escape. Fortunately, they were intercepted at Barmen, whence they were kindly sent back by Mr. Hahn. Not long afterward they again went off, but, passing Barmen this time in the night, no one saw them, and, consequently, they were allowed to pursue their course uninterruptedly, and were never retaken. Strange to relate, these animals (with the exception of two that were destroyed by lions in the neighborhood of Richterfeldt) ultimately found their way back to Scheppmansdorf, having traveled above 200 miles by themselves!

During Mr. Galton's absence I managed to beguile the time agreeably and usefully. Indeed, I spent some of my happiest days in this quiet, secluded, and charming spot, in the full enjoyment of unrestrained liberty. The mornings were usually devoted to excursions in the neighborhood in search of game. Of quadrupeds, we had the giraffe, the gnoo, the gemsbok, the springbok, the koodoo, the pallah, the steinbok, &c., so that I had no difficulty in keeping the larder pretty well supplied. I also made many an interesting and valuable addition to my collection of specimens of natural history.

One day a young steinbok was captured, as also a koodoo, and I was fortunate enough to rear both.

With the steinbok I had very little trouble, a she-goat, whom I deprived of its kid, having taken to it kindly, and become to it a second mother. The koodoo did not give me much more trouble; for, after a few days, during which milk was given to it with a spoon, it would of itself suck from what mothers call a "feeding-bottle,"[1] and butt and pull away at it as if it was drawing nourishment from the teats of its dam.

Both the steinbok and the koodoo were very pretty creatures, and in a short time became very tame and affectionate. Their lively and graceful caperings, and playful frolics, were to us all a source of much amusement. Their end, however, was somewhat tragical: the steinbok died from exhaustion after a severe day's march, and the koodoo, which would have been a valuable addition to the beautiful menagerie in Regent's Park, I was obliged to kill, because we could not obtain a sufficiency of proper food for its maintenance, and had no room in the wagon for its conveyance. It grieved me much to destroy the poor creature, but there was no alternative.

Hyænas, called wolves by the colonists, were very numerous at Schmelen's Hope, and exceedingly audacious and troublesome. More than once, during dark and drizzling nights, they made their way into the sheep-kraal, where they committed sad havoc. We had several chases after them, but they managed invariably to elude us.

To get rid of these troublesome guests, we placed some spring-guns in their path, and by means of this contrivance compassed the death of several.

The manner in which the spring-gun is set for the hyæna is as follows:

Two young trees are selected and divested of their lower branches, or, in lieu of such, a couple of stout posts, firmly
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driven into the ground, will answer the purpose equally well. To these trees or posts, as the case may be, the gun is firmly lashed in a horizontal position, and with the muzzle pointing slightly upward. A piece of wood about six inches in length—the lever, in short—is tied to the side of the gun-stock in such a manner as to move slightly forward and backward. A short piece of string connects the trigger with the lower part of the lever. To the upper extremity of the latter is attached a longer piece of cord, to the outer end of which, after it has been passed through one of the empty ramrod tubes, is tied a lump of flesh, which is pushed over the muzzle of the gun.

These matters being arranged, a sort of fence, consisting of thorny bushes, is made around the spot, only one small, narrow opening being left, and that right in front of the muzzle of the gun. A "drag," consisting of tainted flesh or other offal, is then trailed from different points of the surrounding country directly up to the "toils."

When the hyaena seizes the bait—which she can only do by gaping across the muzzle of the weapon—and pulls at it, the gun at once explodes, and the chances are a hundred to one that the brains of the animal are scattered far and wide.

During our stay at Schmelen's Hope we not unfrequently received visits from leopards, by the Dutch erroneously called "tigers," under which denomination the panther is also included; but I do not believe that tigers, at least of the species common to the East Indies, exist on the African continent. The Damaras, however, assert that the real tiger is found in the country, and they once pointed out to Mr. Rath the tracks of an animal which he declared to me were very different from any he had ever before seen in Africa, and which the natives assured him were those of the animal in question.

One night I was suddenly awoke by a furious barking of our dogs, accompanied by cries of distress. Suspecting that some beast of prey had seized upon one of them, I leaped, undressed, out of my bed, and, gun in hand, hurried to the spot whence the cries proceeded. The night was pitchy dark, however, and I could distinguish nothing; yet, in the hope of frightening the intruder away, I shouted at the top of my voice. In a few moments a torch was lighted, and we then discerned the tracks of a leopard, and also large patches of blood. On counting the dogs, I found that "Summer," the best and fleetest of our kennel, was missing. As it was in vain that I called and searched for him, I concluded that the tiger had carried him away, and as nothing further could be done that night, I again retired to rest; but the fate of the poor animal continued to haunt me, and drove sleep away. I had seated myself on the front chest of the wagon, when suddenly the melancholy cries were repeated, and, on reaching the spot, I found "Summer" stretched at full length in the middle of a bush. Though the poor creature had several deep wounds about his throat and chest, he at once recognized me, and, wagging his tail, looked wistfully in my face. The sight sickened me as I carried him into the house, where, in time, however, he recovered.

The very next day "Summer" was revenged in a very unexpected manner. Some of the servants had gone into the bed of the river to chase away a jackal, when they suddenly encountered a leopard in the act of springing at our goats, which were grazing, unconscious of danger, on the river's bank. On finding himself discovered, he immediately took refuge in a tree, where he was at once attacked by the men. It was, however, not until he had received upward of sixteen wounds—some of which were inflicted by poisoned arrows—that life became extinct. I arrived at the scene of conflict only to see him die.

During the whole affair the men had stationed themselves at the foot of the tree, to the branches of which the leopard was pertinaciously clinging; and, having expended all their ammunition, one of them proposed—and the suggestion was taken into serious consideration—that they should pull him down by the tail!

The poorer of the Damaras, when hard pressed for food, eat the flesh of the leopard, the hyæna, and many other beasts of prey.

The caracal (felis caracal), or the wild-cat, as it is generally called in these parts, was not uncommon in the neighborhood of Schmelen's Hope. The fur of this animal is warm and handsome, and is much esteemed by the natives, who convert the skins into carosses, &c.

According to Professor Thunberg, who gives it on the authority of the Dutch boers, the skin of the caracal is also "very efficacious as a discutient when applied to parts affected with cold or rheumatism."

  1. A bottle of any kind, filled with milk, and with a quill (enveloped in linen) inserted in the cork.