Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/129

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121
THE ERONGO MOUNTAIN—STRANGE CUSTOM.

having seen the party pass unmolested through the territory of their mortal enemies, they were naturally suspicious as to their motive. They probably thought that Mr. Galton had come with a view to spy out and reconnoitre their stronghold, and then to return with re-enforcements in order to carry off their cattle.

Both in going and coming Galton had passed through several large villages of Damaras, who complained bitterly of the severe drought, which was daily carrying off numbers of their stock. The only place that still afforded grass and water in tolerable abundance was the country bordering on the River Swakop; but there they feared the Namaquas. However, they had only two alternatives—either to risk being plundered by these unscrupulous people, or to perish, with their cattle, from hunger and thirst. The first of these was thought the least of the two, and they were, therefore, gradually approaching the dangerous district. Indeed, several kraals had already been established at Richterfeldt.

Being entirely a pastoral people, the Damaras have no notions of permanent habitations. The whole country is considered public property. As soon as the grass is eaten off or the water exhausted in one place, they move away to another. Notwithstanding this, and the loose notions generally entertained by them as to meum and tuum, there is an understanding that he who arrives first at any given locality is the master of it as long as he chooses to remain there, and no one will intrude upon him without having previously asked and obtained his permission. The same is observed even with regard to strangers. Thus the once powerful chief Kahichenè was anxious to take up his quarters at Richterfeldt; but, acting on the understanding described, he first dispatched some of his head men to Mr. Rath, to ascertain from him how far he was agreeable to his proposal. The reverend gentleman replied that their master could do as he liked in this matter, as he himself was but a stranger, and conse-