Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/235

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227
FOOD—MUSIC AND DANCING—CUSTOMS.

ward, and finding his sister still lingering, he beat her about the head with his knob-stick until life was extinct.

Milk is the staple food of the Damaras. They eat or drink it out of one and the same dish without its being cleaned otherwise than occasionally by the tongues of dogs. The people have a notion that if they wash their "bamboos" (pails) the cows would cease to give milk.

With the exception of the spoils of the chase, they destroy but few animals for food. Indeed, unless it be on the occasion of a marriage, a birth, a death, or a circumcision, cattle are rarely killed.

The Damaras are very fond of music and dancing. The only musical instrument known among them is the bow (a kind of temporary rude Jews'-harp), from which they contrive to extract a sort of wild melody. By this instrument the performer endeavors (and frequently with much success) to imitate, musically, the motion peculiar to different animals; for example, the awkward gallop of the giraffe, the quick trot of the zebra, and the lively caperings of the beautiful springbok.

The dance consists mostly of mimic representations of the actions of oxen and sheep. The dancers accompany their gesticulations by monotonous tunes, and keep time by clapping their hands and striking the ground with their feet.

As with the Ovambo, the Eastern custom of taking off the sandals before entering a stranger's house is observed.

The Damaras swear "by the tears of their mothers." This is most touching and beautiful: it elevates the oath to heaven.

Generally speaking, a chief has but nominal power over his subjects. On an attempt to punish heavy offenses, the guilty individual often coolly decamps with his cattle, and takes refuge with another tribe. In minor matters, however, from superstitious customs and old habits, the chief is more or less obeyed.