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PART VII.
Maritzburg, April 4.

Can you believe that we are crying out for rain already, and anxiously scanning the clouds as they bank up over the high hills to the south-west? But so it is. It would be a dreadful misfortune if the real dry weather were to set in so early, and without the usual heavy downfall of rain which fills the tanks and spruits, and wards off the evil day of a short water-supply and no grass. Besides which, everybody here faithfully promises pleasanter weather—weather more like one’s preconceived idea of the climate of Natal—after a regular three days’ rain. It is high time—for my temper, as well as for the tanks—that this rain should come, for the slow, dragging summer days are now only broken by constant gales of hot wind. These same hot winds are worse than anything—more exasperating and more exhausting—nor does a drop of dew fall at night to refresh the fast-browning vegetation over which they scatter a thick haze of dust. Hot winds are bad enough in India, lived through in large, airy, lofty rooms, with mats of fragrant grass kept constantly wet and hung at every door and window—with punkahs and ice, and all the necessary luxury and idle calm of Indian life. What must they be here—and remember, the wind is just as hot, only it blows for shorter intervals, instead of continuously for months—in small houses, with low rooms of eight or ten feet square, and in a country where the mistress of the house is head-cook, head-nurse, head-housemaid, and even head-coachman and gardener, and where a glass of cold water is a luxury only dreamed of in one’s feverish slumbers? Nature demands that we should all be lotos-eaters and lie “propt on beds of amaranth and moly”—at all events from November to April. Necessity insists on our rising early and going to bed late, and eating the bread of carefulness during all those hot weeks. That is to say, one must work very hard one’s self if one desires to have a tolerably clean and comfortable house and to live in any sort of rational and civilized fashion. For my part, I like hard work, speaking generally, but not in a hot wind. Yet people seem to be pretty well, except their tempers—again speaking for myself—so I suppose the climate is disagreeable rather than actually unhealthy.

I feel it is exceedingly absurd the way I dilate incessantly upon three topics—roads (I promise faithfully not to say a word about them this time), weather (I have had my grumble at that, and feel all the better for it), and servants. We have lately added to our establishment a Kafir-girl who is a real comfort and help. Malia—for Kafirs cannot pronounce the letter r: “red” is always “led” with them, and so on—is a short, fat, good-humored-looking damsel of fifteen years of age, but who looks thirty. Regarded as a servant, there is still much to be desired, in spite of the careful and excellent training she has enjoyed in the household of the bishop of Natal, but as a playmate for G——, who is teaching her the noble game of cricket, or as a nursemaid for the baby, she is indeed a treasure of sweet-temper and willingness. To be sure, she did race the perambulator down a steep hill the other day, upsetting the baby and breaking the small vehicle into bits, but still English nursemaids do the same, and do not tell the truth about it at once, as Malia did. It was done to amuse the two children, and answered that part of the programme excellently well, even the final upset eliciting peals of laughter from both the mischievous monkeys. It is also rather singular that in spite of the extreme slowness and deliberation of her movements she breaks quite as much crockery in a week as any one else would in a year. And she is so inexpressibly quaint about it all that one has neither the heart nor the command of countenance requisite to scold. I handed her a saucer last night to put down. The next moment she remarked in her singularly sweet and gentle voice and pretty, musical accent, “Now, here is the saucer in three pieces.” So it was; and how she broke it without dropping it must ever be a mystery to me. It was like a conjuring trick, but it occurs somewhat too often. Malia ought not to be a housemaid at all, for she has a thirst for knowledge which is very remarkable, and a good deal of musical talent. She speaks and reads three languages—Kafir, English and Dutch—with perfect ease and fluency; and is trying hard to learn to write, practicing incessantly on a slate; she is always whistling or singing, or picking out tunes on a sort of pipe, on which she plays some airs very prettily. Every spare moment of her time she is poring over a book, and her little Kafir Bible is ever at hand. I wish with all my heart that I had time to teach her to write and to learn Kafir from her myself, but except on Sunday, when I read with her and hear her say some hymns, I never have a moment. She is so anxious to learn, poor girl! that she watches her opportunity, and when I sit down to brush my hair or lace my boots she drops on one knee by my side, produces her book from her pocket, and says in the most calinante voice, “Sall I lead to you a little, inkosa casa?” Who could have the heart to say no, although my gravity is sorely tried by some peculiarities of pronunciation? She cannot say “such:” it is too harsh, and the nearest we can arrive at, after many efforts, is “sush.” Almost every word has a vowel tacked on to the end, so as to bring it as near to her own liquid, soft-sounding Zulu as possible. I think what upsets me most is to hear our first parents perseveringly called “’Dam and Eva,” but indeed most of the Bible names are difficult of recognition. Yet her idioms are perfect, and she speaks in well-chosen, rather elegant phraseology. Every alternate Sunday, Malia goes down to town dressed in the smartest of bright pink cotton frocks, made very full and very short, a clean white apron, and a sky-blue kerchief arranged on her head in a becoming turban. Malia’s shy grins of delight and pride as she comes thus arrayed to make me her parting curtsey are quite charming to behold, and display a set of teeth which it would be hard to match for beauty anywhere out of Kafirland. Indeed, all these people seem to possess most exquisite teeth, and they take great care of them, rinsing their mouths and polishing these even, glistening pearls at every opportunity.

The more I see of the Kafirs, the more I like them. People tell me they are unreliable, but I find them gay and good-humored, docile and civil. Every cowherd on the veldt has his pretty “sako” bow (phonetic spelling again, on my part) as he passes me when I am fern or grass-seed hunting in the early morning, and I hear incessant peals of laughter from kitchen and stable. Of course, laughter probably means idleness, but I have not the heart to go out every time (as indeed I ought, I believe) and make them, as Mr. Toots calls it, “resume their studies.” Their mirth is very different from that of my old friends the West Indian negroes, who are always chattering and grinning. The true Kafirs wear a stolid expression of countenance in public, and are not easily moved to signs of surprise or amusement, but at home they seem to me a very merry and sociable people. Work is always a difficulty and a disagreeable to them, and I fear that many generations must pass before a Kafir will do a hand’s turn more than is actually necessary to keep his body and soul together. They are very easily trained as domestic servants, in spite of the drawback of not understanding half what is said to them, and they make especially good grooms. The most discouraging part of the training process, however, is that it is wellnigh perpetual, for except gypsies I don’t believe there is on the face of the earth a more restless, unsettled human being than your true Kafir. Change he seems to crave for, and change he will have, acknowledging half his time that he knows it must be for the worse. He will leave a comfortable, easy place, where he is well treated and perfectly happy, for harder work, and often blows, just for the sake of a change. No kindness can attach him, except in the rarest instances, and nothing upon earth could induce him to forego his periodical visits to his own kraal. This means a return, for the time being, to barbarism, which seems very strange when a man has had time to get accustomed to clothes and a good room and good food, and the hundred and one tastes which civilization teaches. Imagine laying aside the comforts and decencies of life to creep in at the low door of a big beehive, and squat naked round a huge fire, smoking filthy tobacco and drinking a kind of beer which is made from mealies! I’ve often seen this beer, and Charlie is very anxious I should taste it, bringing me some occasionally in an old biscuit-tin with assurances that “Ma’” will find it very good. But I cannot get beyond looking at it, for it is difficult to associate the idea of beer with a thick liquid resembling dirty chocolate more than anything else. So I always stave off the evil day of tasting with ingenious excuses.

Perhaps the Kafirs are more behindhand in medical faith than in any other respect. The other day one of our Kafirs had a bad bilious attack, and, declining all offers of more civilized treatment, got one of his own physicians to bleed him in the great toe, with, as he declared, the happiest effect. Certain it is that in the afternoon he reported himself as perfectly well. But the most extraordinary kind of remedy came before me quite lately. Tom had a frightful headache, which is not to be wondered at, considering how that boy smokes the strongest tobacco out of a cow’s horn morning, noon and night, to say nothing of incessant snuff-taking. The first I heard of Tom’s headache was when Charlie came to ask me for a remedy; which I thought very nice on his part, because he and Tom live in a chronic state of quarreling, and half my time is taken up in keeping the peace between them. However, I told Charlie that I knew of no remedy for a bad headache except going to bed, and that was what I should advise Tom to do. Charlie smiled rather contemptuously, as if pitying my ignorance, and asked if I would give him a box of wooden matches. Now, matches are a standing grievance in a Kafir establishment, and go at the rate of a box a day if not carefully locked up; so I, failing to connect wooden matches and Tom’s headache together, began a reproachful catalogue of how many boxes he had asked for lately. Charlie, however, hastily cut me short by saying, “But, ma’, it for make Tom well.” So of course I produced a box of Bryant & May, and stood by to watch Charlie doctoring Tom. Match after match did Charlie strike, holding the flaming splinter up Tom’s exceedingly wide nostrils, until the box was empty. Tom winced a good deal, but bore this singeing process with great fortitude. Every now and then he cried out, as well he might, when Charley thrust a freshly-lighted match up his nose, but on the whole he stood it bravely, and by the time the matches were all burned out he declared his headache was quite cured, and that he was ready to go and chop wood; nor would he listen to the idea of going to bed. “It very good stuff to smell, ma’,” said Charlie: “it burn de sickness away.” Kafirs are inexpressibly queer, too, about their domestic arrangements; and I had a long argument with a Kafir-woman only the other day, through Malia’s interpretation, as to the propriety of killing one of her babies when she chanced to have twins. My dusky friend declared it was much the best plan, and one which was always followed when the whites did not interfere. If both children were kept alive, she averred they would both be wretched, puny little creatures, and would be quite sure to die eventually; so, as a Kafir looks to his children to take care of and work for him, even in his middle age, the sons by their wages, the daughters by their dowries, or rather by the prices paid for them, she declared it was very bad economy to try and rear two babies at once, and calmly recapitulated the instances in her own and her neighbors’ families where one wretched twin had been killed to give the other a better chance. She confessed she had been much puzzled upon one occasion when the twins were a girl and a boy, for both would have been useful hereafter. “I thought of the cows I should get for the girl,” she said, “and then I thought of the boy’s wages, and I didn’t know which to keep; but the girl, she cry most, so I kill her, and the boy grow up very good boy—earn plenty money.” That was Malia’s interpretation, for, although she speaks excellent English, when another person’s words have to be reproduced her tenses get a little confused and jumbled up. But she is a capital mouthpiece, and it always amuses me to bargain, through her, for my eggs and chickens and mealies. Sorry bargaining it is, generally resulting in my paying double the market-price for these commodities. Lately I have been even more fleeced than usual, especially by my egg-man, who is an astute old Kafir, very much adorned with circlets of copper wire on his legs and arms. He brings his eggs in a bag, which he swings about so recklessly that it is a perpetual marvel to me how they escape annihilation. Every time he comes he adds threepence to the price of his eggs per dozen on account of the doubled hut-tax; and I assure him that in time it will end in my having paid the whole amount instead of him. Hitherto, the natives have paid a tax of seven shillings per annum on each hut, but this year it has been doubled; so the Kafirs very sensibly make their white customers pay a heavy percentage on the necessaries of life with which they supply them. It is exactly what it used to be in London three or four years ago, when coals were so costly: everything rose in price, from china vases down to hairpins; so now this doubled hut-tax is the excuse for a sudden rise in the value of eggs, fowls, cows, mealies and what not. I don’t understand political economy myself, but it always seems to me a curious fact that although every article of food or clothing is only too ready to jump up in price on the smallest excuse, it never comes down again. I try to chaff my old Kafir egg-merchant, and show him by figures that his extra charge for eggs pays his extra seven shillings in about six weeks. I endeavor to persuade him, after this increased tax is thus provided for, to go back to his original price, but he smiles knowingly and shakes his head, murmuring, “Ka, ka,” which appears to mean “No.”

All this time, however, I am longing to tell you of a famous tea-party I have had here lately—a regular “drum,” only it beat all the London teas hollow, even with dear little “Minas”[1] thrown into the bargain, because in the corner of my cards were the words “Tea and witches.” Now, I ask you, could any one wish for a greater excitement than that to enliven a summer afternoon? Attractive as was the bait, it was a blunder or a fib—which you choose—for, so far from being witches, my five extraordinary performers were the sworn enemies of witches, being, in fact, “witch-finders,” or “witch-doctors,” as they are just as often called. I am quite sure that no one has ever suffered so much anxiety about a small entertainment as I did about that tea-party. Of course, there was the usual thunderstorm due that afternoon, and not until the last moment, when the clouds rolled off toward the Umgeni valley, leaving us a glorious sky and a pleasant breeze, did I cease to fear that the whole thing might prove a fiasco. By the time I had begun to have confidence in the weather came a distracted message from the obliging neighbor who supplies me with milk, to say that, as ill-luck would have it, her cows had selected this particular afternoon of all the year to stray away and get themselves impounded, and that consequently the delivery of sundry bottles (everything is sold in bottles here) of new milk was as uncertain as—what shall I say?—Natal weather, for nothing can be more uncertain than that. Imagine my dismay! No one even dared to suggest preserved milk to me, so well known is my antipathy to that miserable makeshift. I should have sat me down and wept if at that moment I had not discovered a small herd of cattle wending their way across the veldt to my neighbor’s gate. Oh joy! the milk and the weather were all right! But what was that enormous mob of shouting, singing Kafirs clamoring outside my garden fence? They were my witch-finders, escorted by nearly the whole black population of Maritzburg: they had arrived about three hours before the proper time, and were asking for some place to dress in, not from any fastidiousness, but simply because they didn’t want profane eyes to witness the details of assuming their professional decorations. Remember, there was not a white man nearer than Maritzburg, and there was nothing upon earth to prevent any number of these excited, shouting men and boys from walking into my little house, or at least helping themselves to anything off the tea-tables, which the servants were beginning to arrange in the verandah. But they were as docile and obedient as possible, readily acceding to my desire that they should remain outside the fence, and asking for nothing except copious draughts of water. Certainly, I was armed with a talisman, for I went out to them myself, with one of my numerous “Jacks” as an interpreter, and told them they must all sit down and wait patiently until Mr. S—— (their own beloved inkosi) came, adding that he would be there immediately. That was a fib, for he could not come until late, but an excellent substitute very soon appeared and set my mind partly at rest. I say, only “partly,” because I had been so teased about my party. F—— had been especially aggravating, observing from time to time that my proceedings were at once illegal and improper, adding that “he was surprised at me.” Can you imagine anything more trying? And yet I knew quite well all the time that he was just as anxious to see these people as we were, only he persisted in being semi-official and disagreeable. Never mind: I triumphed over him afterward, when it all went off so well. When I had leisure to think of anything but whether there would be a riot or not, I had horrible misgivings about the compulsory scantiness of my invitations. I should have liked to ask all my acquaintances, as well as the few friends I had invited, but what is one to do with a doll’s house and a dozen tea-cups? Those were my resources, and I taxed them to the uttermost as it was. One cannot hire things here, and I had no place to put them if I could; but it is horrid to feel, as I did, that heaps of people must have wondered why they were left out.

[1] A wonderful performing dog exhibited by Madame H?ger, and much in request last season.

At last five o’clock came, bringing with it a regiment of riders, thirsting for tea and clamorous to see the witches, wanting their fortunes told, their lost trinkets found, and Heaven knows what besides. “They are not witches at all,” I said gravely: “they are witch-finders, and I believe the whole thing is very wrong.” There was a depressing announcement for one’s hostess to make! But it had a good effect for the moment, and sent my guests quietly off to console themselves with their tea: that, at least, could not be wrong, especially as the milk had arrived, new and delicious. In the mean time, kind Mr. F—— had gone off to fetch the witches, as everybody persisted in calling them, and presently they appeared in full official dress, walking along in a measured, stately step, keeping time and tune to the chanting of a body-guard of girls and women who sang continuously, in a sort of undertone, a monotonous kind of march. They made an excellent stage-entrance—grave, composed, erect of carriage and dauntless of mien. These Amazonian women walked past the verandah, raising their hand, as the men do, with the low cry of “Inkosi!” in salutation. Their pride is to be looked upon as men when once they take up this dread profession, which is also shared with them by men. They are permitted to bear shield and spear as warriors, and they hunt and kill with their own hands the wild beasts and reptiles whose skins they wear. Their day is over and ended, however, for the cruelties practiced under their auspices had risen to a great height, and it is now against the law to seek out a witch by means of these pitiless women. It is not difficult to understand—bearing in mind the superstition and cruelty which existed in remote parts of England not so very long ago—how powerful such women became among a savage people, or how tempting an opportunity they could furnish of getting rid of an enemy. Of course, they are exceptional individuals, more observant, more shrewd and more dauntless than the average fat, hard-working Kafir-women, besides possessing the contradictory mixture of great physical powers and strong hysterical tendencies. They work themselves up to a pitch of frenzy, and get to believe as firmly in their own supernatural discernment as any individual among the trembling circle of Zulus to whom a touch from the whisk they carry in their hands is a sentence of instant death. It gave a certain grim interest to what a Scotch friend called the “ploy” to know that it had once been true, and I begged Mr. F—— to explain to them before they began that the only reason I had wanted to see them arose from pure curiosity to know what they looked like, how they were dressed, and so forth, and that I quite understood that it was all nonsense and very wrong and against the law to do, really, but that this was only a play and pretence. Shall I confess that I felt rather ashamed at making this public avowal? But my conscience demanded it clamorously, and I felt many misgivings lest I should indeed be causing any “weak brother to offend.” However, it was too late now for scruples, and a sort of shout came up from the good-humored, well-behaved crowd outside, assuring me they knew it was only for fun and that it was quite right, and they were glad for the English “inkosa-casa” and her friends to see an old custom which it was a good thing to have done with. This little speech, so full of true tact, put me at my ease at once, and we all took up our position at one side of the little semicircular lawn, where the dance-crescent was already formed, supplying ourselves the place of the supposed ring of spectators and victims. I wish I could make you see the scene as I saw it, and shall ever see it when I look back upon it. The first original “tail” of my witch-finders had been supplemented by a crowd of people who formed a background, keeping perfectly quiet, and, though uninvited and unexpected, giving not the slightest trouble. That is the odd part of a colony: individuals are rougher, less polite and more brusque and overbearing than the people one is accustomed to see in England, but the moment it comes to a great concourse of people, then the absolute respectability of class asserts itself, and the crowd—the “rough” element being conspicuous by its absence—is far more orderly than any assemblage of a dozen people elsewhere. Imagine a villa at Wimbledon or Putney, and some four or five hundred uninvited people calmly walking into the grounds to look at something they wished to see, without a ghost of a policeman or authority in charge! Yet that was our predicament for an hour or two, and not a leaf or rosebud or blade of grass was touched or injured in any way, nor was there a sound to be heard to mar the tranquil beauty of that summer evening. It was indeed “a beauteous evening, calm and free”—in spite of my chronic state of grumbling at the climate and weather, I must acknowledge that—an evening which might have been made to order. Recent rains had washed the surrounding hills, brightened the dust-laden grass to green once more, and freshened up everything. The amphitheatre of rising ground which surrounds Maritzburg had never looked more beautiful, with purple and blue shadows passing over it from the slow-sailing clouds above. Toward the west the sky was gently taking that peculiar amethystic glow which precedes a fine sunset, and the sun itself laid long, parting lances of pure golden light across hill and dale around. A fresh air came up from the south, blowing softly across the downs, and sleepy, picturesque little Maritzburg—empty for the afternoon of its inhabitants, I should fancy—nestled cozily up against the undulating ground opposite. Then, to come nearer home, just outside our sod-fence a line of dusky faces rose above the ferns and waving grasses— faces whose gleaming eyes were riveted on the performers within. The little drive and garden-paths were crowded with strangers, white and colored—all, as I said before, perfectly quiet and orderly, but evidently interested and amused. A semicircle of girls and women—some in gay civilized garb, some in coarsest drapery, some with drowsy babies hung at their backs, some with bright beads on wrist and neck, but all earnest and intent on their part—stood like the chorus of a Greek play, beating their hands together and singing a low monotonous chant, the measure and rhythm of which changed every now and again with a stamp and a swing. A pace or two in front of these singers were the witch-finders in full ceremonial dress. Collectively, they are known by the name of the “Izinyanga” or “Abangoma,” but each had of course her distinctive name, and each belonged to a separate tribe. Conspicuous from her great height, Nozinyanga first caught my eye, her floating, helmet-like plume of the tail-feathers of the saka-bula bird shading her fierce face, made still more gruesome by wafers of red paint on cheek and brow. In her right hand she held a light sheaf of assegais or lances, and on her left arm was slung a small pretty shield of dappled ox hide. Her petticoat was less characteristic than that of her sister-performers, being made of a couple of large gay handkerchiefs worn kiltwise. But she made up for the shortcomings of characteristic decoration in her skirts by the splendor of the bead necklaces and armlets, fringes of goat’s hair and scarlet tassels, with which she was covered from throat to waist. A baldric of leopard skin was fastened across her capacious chest, and down her back hung a beautifully dried and flattened skin of an enormous boa constrictor. This creature must have been of a prodigious length, for, whilst its hooded head was fastened at the broad nape of Nozinyanga’s neck, its tail dragged some two feet or so on the ground behind her. Now, Nozinyanga stood something like six feet two inches on her bare feet, but although I first looked at her, attracted by her tall stature and defiant pose, the proceedings were really opened by a small, lithe woman with a wonderfully pathetic, wistful face, who seemed more in earnest than her big sisters, and who in her day must doubtless have brushed away many a man’s life with the quagga’s tail she brandished so lightly.

To make you understand the terrible interest attaching to these women, I ought to explain to you here that it used to be the custom whenever anything went wrong, either politically or socially, among the Zulus and other tribes, to attribute the shortcomings to witch-agency. The next step to be taken, after coming to this resolution, was to seek out and destroy the witch or witches; and for this purpose a great meeting would be summoned by order of the king and under his superintendence, and a large ring of natives would sit trembling and in fear of their lives on the ground. In the centre of these danced the witch-finders or witch-doctors; and as they gradually lashed themselves up to a frantic state of frenzy—bordering, in fact, on demoniacal possession—they lightly switched with their quagga tail one or other of the quivering spectators. No sooner had the fatal brush passed over the victim than he was dragged away and butchered on the spot; and not only he, but all the live things in his hut—wives and children, dogs and cats—not a stick left standing or a living creature breathing. Sometimes a whole kraal was exterminated in this fashion; and it need not be told what a method it became of gratifying private revenge and paying off old scores. Of all the blessings, so unwillingly and grudgingly admitted, which ever so partial a civilization has brought to these difficult, lazy, and yet pugnacious Kafir people, none can be greater, surely, than the rule which strictly forbids this sort of Lynch law from being carried out anywhere, under any circumstances, by these priestesses of a cruel faith. Now, perhaps, you see why there was such a strong undercurrent of interest and excitement beneath the light laughter and frolic of our summer-afternoon tea-party.

Nozilwane was the name of this terrible little sorceress, who frightened more than one of us more thoroughly than we should like to acknowledge, peering up in our faces, as she hung about the group of guests, with a weird and wistful glance which was both uncanny and uncomfortable. She was really beautifully dressed for her part in lynx skins folded over and ever from waist to knee, and the upper part of her body covered by strings of wild beasts’ teeth and fangs, skeins of brilliantly-hued yarn, beads, strips of snake skin and fringes of Angora goat fleece. This was a singularly effective and graceful decoration, worn round the body and above each elbow, and falling in soft white flakes among the gay coloring and against the dusky skin. Lynx tails hung down like lappets on each side of her face, which was overshadowed, almost hidden, by the profusion of saka-bula feathers. This bird has a very beautiful plumage, and is sufficiently rare for the natives to attach a peculiar value and charm to the tail-feathers. They are like those of a young cock, curved and slender, and of a dark-chestnut color, with a white eye at the extreme tip of each feather. Among this floating, thick plumage small bladders were interspersed, and skewers and pins fashioned out of tusks. All the witch-finders wear their own hair (or rather wool) alike; that is, highly greased and twisted up with twine until it loses the appearance of hair completely, and hangs around their faces like a thick fringe dyed deep red.

Nozilwane stepped out with a creeping, cat-like gesture, bent double, as if she were seeking out a trail. Every movement of her undulating body kept time to the beat of the girls’ hands and the low, crooning chant. Presently, she affected to find the clew she sought, and sprang aloft with a series of wild pirouettes, shaking her spears and brandishing her little shield in a frenzied fashion. But Nomaruso, albeit much taller and in less good condition than the lady of the lynx skins, was determined that she should not remain the cynosure of our eyes; and she too, with a yell and a caper, cut into the dance to the sound of louder grunts and faster hand-claps. Nomaruso turned her back to us a good deal in her performances, conscious of a magnificent snake skin, studded besides in a regular pattern with brass-headed nails, which floated like a streamer down her back. She wore a magnificent jupon of leopard skins decorated with red rosettes, and her toilette was altogether more recherché and artistic than any of the others. Her bangles were brighter, her goat fringes whiter, and her face more carefully painted. Yet Nozilwane held her own gallantly in virtue of being a mere bag of bones, and also having youth and a firm belief in herself on her side. The others, though they all joined in hunting out a phantom foe, and triumphed over his discovery in turn, were soon breathless and exhausted, and glad to be led away by some of the attendant women to be anointed and to drink water. Besides which, they were all of a certain age, and less inclined to frisk about than the agile Nozilwane. As for great big Nozinyanga, she danced like Queen Elizabeth, “high and disposedly;” and no wonder, for I should think she weighed at least fifteen stone. Umgiteni, in a petticoat of white Angora skin and a corsage of bladders and teeth, beads and viper skins, was nothing remarkable; nor was Umànonjazzla, a melancholy-looking woman with an enormous wig-like coiffure of red woolen ringlets and white skewers. Her physiognomy, too, was a trifle more stolid and commonplace than that of her comrades; and altogether she gave me the impression of being a sensible, respectable woman who was very much ashamed of herself for playing such antics. However, she brandished her divining-brush with the rest, and cut in now and then to “keep the flure” with the untiring Nozilwane.

All this time the chanting and hand-beating never ceased, the babies dozed placidly behind their mothers’ backs, and we all began to think fondly of a second cup of tea. The sun had now quite dropped behind the high hills to the west, and was sending long rays right up across the tranquil sky. We felt we had enough of imaginary witch-finding, and looked about for some means of ending the affair. “Let us test their powers of finding things,” said one of the party: “I have lost a silver pipe-stem, which I value much.” So the five wise women were bidden to discover what was lost, and where it was to be found. They set about this in a curious and interesting way, which reminded one of the children’s game of “magic music.” In the first place, it was a relief to know there were not any ghastly recollections attached to this performance; and in the next, one could better understand by the pantomime what they were about. In front of us squatted on heels and haunches a semicircle of about a dozen men, who were supposed to have invoked the aid of the sisterhood to find some lost property. These men, however, did not in the least know what was asked for, and were told to go on with their part until a signal was given that the article had been named. They were all highly respectable head-men—“indunas,” in fact—each worth a good herd of cows at least, and much portable property. In every-day life it would have been hard to beat them for shrewd common sense. Yet it was easy to perceive that the old savage instincts and beliefs were there strong as ever, and that though they affected to take it all, as we did, as an afternoon’s frolic, they were firm believers in the mystic power of the Abangoma, else they never could have played their parts so well, so eagerly and with such vivid interest.

“What is it the inkosi has lost?” they cried. “Discover, reveal, make plain to us.”

It was a good moment in which to try the experiment, because all the singing and dancing had worked the Izinyanga up to a high pitch of enthusiasm and excitement, and the inspiration was held to be complete; so, without hesitation, Nomaruso accepted the men’s challenge and cried, “Sing for me: make a cadence for me.” Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she went on in rapid, broken utterance, “Is this real? is it a test? is it but a show? do the white chiefs want to laugh at our pretensions? Has the white lady called us only to show other white people that we can do nothing? Is anything really lost? is it not hidden? No, it is lost. Is it lost by a black person? No, a white person has lost it. Is it lost by the great white chief?” (meaning their own King of Hearts, their native minister). “No, it is lost by an ordinary white man. Let me see what it is that is lost. Is it money? No. Is it a weighty thing? No, it can be always carried about: it is not heavy. All people like to carry it, especially the white inkosi. It is made of the same metal as money. I could tell you more, but there is no earnestness in all this: it is only a spectacle.”

Between each of these short sentences the seeress made a pause and eagerly scanned the faces of the men before her. For safe reply they gave a loud, simultaneous snap of their finger and thumb, pointing toward the ground as they did so and shouting but one word, “Y-i-z-wa!” (the first syllable tremendously accented and drawn out), “discover—reveal.” That is all they can say to urge her on, for in this case they know not themselves; but the priestesses watch their countenances eagerly to see if happily there may be, consciously or unconsciously, some sign or token whether, as children say in their games, they are “hot” or not.

Nomaruso will say no more—she suspects a trick—but Nozilwane rushes about like one possessed, sobbing and quivering with excitement. “It is this—it is that.” Gigantic Nozinyanga strikes her lance firmly into the ground and cries haughtily, in her own tongue, “It is his watch,” looking round as though she dared us to contradict her. The other three join hands and gallopade round and round, making the most impossible suggestions; but the “inquirers,” as the kneeling men are called, give them no clew or help, nothing but the rapid finger-snap, the hand pointed sternly down to the ground, as though they were to seek it there, and the fast-following cry, “Yizwa, yizwa!”

At last Nozilwane has it: “His pipe.” (“Yizwa, yizwa!”) “A thing which has come off his pipe;” and so it is. Nozilwane’s pluck and perseverance and cunning watching of our faces at each hit she made have brought her off triumphantly. A grunt and a murmur of admiration go round. The indunas jump up and subside into ebony images of impassive respectability; the chorus, sorely weary by this time, breaks up into knots, and the weird sisterhood drop as if by one accord on their knees, sitting back on their heels, before me, raise their right hands in salutation and deliver themselves of a little speech, of which this is as close a translation as it is possible to get of so dissimilar a language: “Messages were sent to us at our kraals that an English lady wished to see us and witness our customs. When we heard these messages our hearts said, ‘Go to the English lady.’ So we have come, and now our hearts are filled with pleasure at having seen this lady, and ourselves heard her express her thanks to us. We would also, on our part, thank the lady for her kindness and her presents. White people do not believe in our powers, and think that we are mad; but still we know it is not so, and that we really have the powers we profess. So it comes that we are proud this day at being allowed to show ourselves before our great white chief and so many great white people. We thank the lady again; and say for us, O son of Mr. F——! that we wish her ever to dwell in peace, and we desire for her that her path may have light.” It was not easy to find anything equally pretty to say in return for this, but I, in my turn, invoked the ready wit and fluent tongue of the “son of Mr. F——,” and I dare say he turned out, as if from me, something very neat and creditable.

So we were all mutually pleased with each other; only I was haunted all the time of this pretty speech-making by the recollection of a quaint saying, often used by a funny old Scotch nurse we had when we were children: I don’t think I have ever heard it since, but it darted into my mind with my first platitude: “When gentlefolks meet compliments pass.” We were all anxious to outdo each other in politeness, but unless my niaiseries gained a good deal by being changed into Zulu, I fear the witch-finders did the best in that line.

The twilight, sadly short now, was fast coming on, and all the black people were anxious to get back to their homes. Already the crowd of spectators had melted away like magic, streaming down the green hillsides by many a different track: only a remnant of the body-guard lingered to escort the performers home. As they passed the corner of the verandah where the tea-table was set, I fancied they glanced wistfully at the cakes; so I rather timidly handed a substantial biscuit, as big as a saucer, to the huge Nozinyanga, who graciously accepted it as joyfully as a child would. Another little black hand was thrust out directly, and yet another, and so the end was that the tea-tables were cleared, then and there, of all the eatables; and it was not until every dish was empty that the group moved on, raising a parting cry of “Inkosa casa!” and a sort of cheer or attempt at a cheer. They were so unfeignedly delighted with this sudden “happy thought” about the cakes and biscuits that it was quite a pleasure to see them, so good-humored and docile, moving off the moment they saw I really had exhausted my store, with pretty gestures of gratitude and thanks. We had to content ourselves with bread and butter with our second cups of tea, but we were so tired and thirsty, and so glad of a little rest and quiet, that I don’t think we missed the cakes.

As we sat there enjoying the last lovely gleams of daylight and chatting over the strange, weird scene, we could just hear the distant song of the escort as they took the tired priestesses home, and we all fell to talking of the custom when it was in all its savage force. Many of the friends present had seen or heard terrible instances of the wholesale massacre which would have followed just such an exhibition as this had it been in earnest. But I will repeat for you some of the less ghastly stories. One shall be modern and one ancient—as ancient as half a century ago, which is ancient for modern tradition. The modern one is the tamest, so it shall come first.

Before the law was passed making it wrong to consult these Izinyanga or witch-doctors a servant belonging to one of the English settlers lost his savings, some three or four pounds. He suspected one of his fellow-servants of being the thief, summoned the Izinyanga, and requested his master to “assist” at the ceremony. All the other servants were bidden to assemble themselves, and to do exactly what the witch-finder bade them. She had them seated in a row in front of her, and ordered them, one and all, to bare their throats and chests, for, you must remember, they were clothed as the law obliges them to be in the towns—in a shirt and knickerbockers. This they did, the guilty one with much trepidation, you may be sure, and she fixed her eyes on that little hollow in the neck where the throat joins the body, watching carefully the accelerated pulsation: “It is thou: no, it is not. It must then be you;” and so on, dodging about, pointing first to one, and then rapidly wheeling round to fix on another, until the wretched criminal was so nervous that when she made one of her sudden descents upon him, guided by the bewraying pulse, which fluttered and throbbed with anxiety and terror, he was fain to throw up his hands and confess, praying for mercy. In this case the Izinyanga was merely a shrewd, observant woman with a strong spice of the detective in her; but they are generally regarded not only as sorceresses, whose superior incantations can discover and bring to light the machinations of the ordinary witch, but as priestesses of a dark and obscure faith.

The other instance of their discernment we talked of happened some fifty years ago, when Chaka the Terrible was king of the Zulus. The political power of these Izinyanga had then reached a great height in Zululand, and they were in the habit of denouncing as witches—or rather wizards—one after the other of the king’s ministers and chieftains. It was difficult to put a stop to these wholesale murders, for the sympathy of the people was always on the side of the witch-finders, cruel though they were. At last the king thought of an expedient. He killed a bullock, and with his own hands smeared its blood over the royal hut in the dead of night. Next day he summoned a council, and announced that some one had been guilty of high treason in defiling the king’s hut with blood, and that, too, when it stood, apparently secure from outrage, in the very middle of the kraal. What was to be done? The Izinyanga were summoned, and commanded, on pain of death, to declare who was the criminal. This they were quite ready to do, and named without hesitation one after another the great inkosi who sat trembling around. But instead of dooming the wretched victim to death, the dénouement closely resembled that of the famous elegy: “The dog it was that died.” In other words, the witch-finders who named an inkosi heard to their astonishment that they were to be executed and the denounced victim kept alive. This went on for some time, until one, cleverer than the rest, and yet afraid of committing himself too much, rose up and said oracularly, “I smell the heavens above.” Chaka took this as a compliment, as well as a guess in the right direction, ordered all the remaining Izinyanga to be slain on the spot, and appointed the fortunate oracle to be his one and only witch-finder for ever after.

Chaka’s name will be remembered for many and many a day in Zululand and the provinces which border it by both black and white. In the first decade of this century, when Napoleon was mapping out Europe afresh with the bayonet for a stylus, and we were pouring out blood and money like water to check him here and there—at that very time Ranpehera in New Zealand and Chaka in Zululand were playing a precisely similar game. Here, Chaka had a wider field for his Alexander-like rage for conquest, and he and his wild warriors dashed over the land like a mountain-stream. No place was safe from him, and he was the terror of the unhappy first settlers. Even now his name brings a sense of uneasiness with it, for it is still a spell to rouse the warrior-spirit, which only sleeps in the breasts of his wild subjects across the border.

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