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Maritzburg, July 3, 1876.

I have seen two Kafir weddings lately, and, oddly enough, by the merest chance they took place within a day or two of each other. The two extremes of circumstances, the rudest barbarism and the culminating smartness of civilization, seemed to jostle each other before my very eyes, as things do in a dream. And they went backward, too, to make it more perplexing, for it was the civilized wedding I saw first—the wedding of people whose mothers had been bought for so many cows, and whose marriage-rites had probably been celebrated with a stick, for your Kafir bridegroom does not understand coyness, and speedily ends the romance of courtship by a few timely cuffs.

Well, then, I chanced to be in town one of these fine bright winter mornings (which would be perfect if it were not for the dust), and I saw a crowd round the porch of the principal church. “What is going on?” I asked naturally, and heard, in broken English dashed with Dutch and Kafir, that there was an “umtyado” (excuse phonetic spelling), a “bruitlof,” a “vedding.” Hardly had I gathered the meaning of all these terms—the English being by far the most difficult to recognize, for they put a click in it—than the bridal party came out of church, formed themselves into an orderly procession and commenced to walk up the exceedingly dusty street two by two. They were escorted by a crowd of well-wishers and a still greater crowd of spectators—more or less derisive, I regret to state. But nothing upset the gravity and decorum of the bride and bridegroom, who walked first with a perfectly happy and self-satisfied expression of face. Uniforms were strictly excluded, and the groom and his male friends prided themselves on having discarded all their miscellaneous red coats for the day, and on being attired in suits of ready-made tweed, in which they looked queerer than words can say. Boots also had they on their feet, to their huge discomfort, and white felt soft hats stuck more or less rakishly on their elaborately combed and woolly pates. The general effect of the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, was that of the Christy Minstrels, but the ladies made up for everything. I wish you could have seen the perfect ease and grace of the bride as she paced along with her flowing white skirts trailing behind her in the dust and her lace veil thrown over a wreath of orange-flowers and hanging to the ground. It was difficult to believe that probably not long ago she had worn a sack or a fold of coarse salempore as her sole clothing. She managed her draperies, all snowy white and made in the latest fashion, as if she had been used to long gowns all her life, and carried her head as though it had never known red clay or a basket of mealies. I could not see her features, but face and throat and bare arms were all as black as jet, and shone out in strong relief from among her muslin frills, and furbelows. There were many yards of satin ribbon among these same frills, and plenty of artificial flowers, but everything was all white, shoes and all. I am afraid she had “disremembered” her stockings. The principal couple were closely followed by half a dozen other pairs of sable damsels, also “gowned in pure white” and made wonderful with many bows of blue ribbon. Each maiden was escorted by a groomsman, the rear-guard of guests trailing off into colored cottons and patched suits. Everybody looked immensely pleased with him and herself, and I gradually lost sight of them in the unfailing cloud of dust which rises on the slightest provocation at this time of year. I assure you it was a great event, the first smart wedding in Maritzburg among the Kafirs, and I only hope the legal part is all right, and that the bridegroom won’t be free to bring another wife home some day to vex the soul of this smart lady. Kafir marriage-laws are in a curious state, and present one of the greatest difficulties in the process of grafting civilized habits on the customs of utter barbarism.

In spite of the imposing appearance of bride and bridegroom, in spite of the good sign all this aping of our ways really is, in spite of a hundred considerations of that nature which ought to have weighed with me, but did not, I fear I took far more interest in a real Kafir marriage, a portion of whose preliminary proceedings I saw two days after this gala procession in white muslin and gray tweed. I was working in the verandah after breakfast—for you must know that it is so cold in-doors that we all spend the middle part of the day basking like lizards in the delicious warmth of sunny air outside—when I heard a distant but loud noise beyond the sod fence between us and a track leading over the hills, in whose hollows many a Kafir kraal nestles snugly. I knew it must be something unusual, for I saw all our Kafirs come running out in a state of great excitement, calling to each other to make haste. G—— too left the funeral obsequies of a cat-murdered pigeon in which he was busily employed, and scampered off to the gate, shouting to me to come and see. So I, who am the idlest mortal in the world, and dearly love an excuse for leaving whatever rational employment I am engaged upon, snatched up the baby, who was supremely happy digging in the dust in the sunshine, called Maria in case there might be anything to explain, and ran off to the gate also. But there was nothing to be seen, not even dust: we only heard a sound of monotonous singing and loud grunting coming nearer and nearer, and by and by a muffled tread of bare hurrying feet shuffling through the powdered earth of the track. My own people had clambered up on the fence, and were gesticulating wildly and laughing and shouting, Tom waving the great wooden spoon with which he stirs his everlasting “scoff.” “What is it, Maria?” I asked. Maria shook her head and looked very solemn, saying “I doan know,” but even while she spoke a broad grin broke all over her face, and she showed her exquisite teeth from ear to ear as she said, half contemptuously, “It’s only a wild Kafir wedding, lady. There are the warriors: that’s what they do when they don’t know any better.” Evidently, Maria inclined to the long white muslin gown of the civilized bride which I had so minutely described to her, and she turned away in disdain.

Yes, here they come—first, a body of stalwart warriors dressed in skins, with immense plumes of feathers on their heads, their lithe, muscular bodies shining like ebony as they flash past me—not so quickly, however, but that they have time for the politesse of tossing up shields and spears with a loud shout of “Inkosi!” which salutation the baby, who takes it entirely to himself, returns with great gravity and unction. These are the vanguard, the flower of Kafir chivalry, who are escorting the daughter of a chieftain to her new home in a kraal on the opposite range of hills. They make it a point of honor to go as quickly as possible, for they are like the stroke oar and give the time to the others. After them come the male relatives of the bride, a motley crew, numerous, but altogether wanting in the style and bearing of the warriors. Their garb, too, is a wretched mixture, and a compromise between clothes and no clothes, and they shuffle breathlessly along, some with sacks over their shoulders, some with old tunics of red or blue and nothing else, and some only with two flaps or aprons. But all wear snuffboxes in their ears—snuffboxes made of every conceivable material—hollow reeds, cowries, tiger-cats’ teeth, old cartridge-cases, acorn-shells, empty chrysalises of some large moth—all sorts of miscellaneous rubbish which could by any means be turned to this use. Then comes a more compact and respectable-looking body of men, all with rings on their heads, the Kafir sign and token of well-to-do-ness, with bare legs, but draped in bright-colored rugs or blankets. They too fling up their right arm and cry “Inkosi!” as they race along, but are more intent on urging on their charge, the bride, who is in their midst. Poor girl! she has some five or six miles yet to go, and she looks ready to drop now; but there seems to be no consideration for her fatigue, and I observe that she evidently shrinks from the sticks which her escort flourish about. She is a good-looking, tall girl, with a nice expression in spite of her jaded and hurried air. She wears only a large sheet of coarse brownish cloth draped gracefully and decently around her, leaving, however, her straight, shapely legs bare to run. On her right arm she too bears a pretty little shield made of dun and white ox hide, and her face is smeared over brow and cheeks with red clay, her hair also being tinged with it. She glances wistfully, I fancy, at Maria standing near me in her good clothes and with her fat, comfortable look. Kafir girls dread being married, for it is simply taking a hard place without wages. Love has very rarely anything to do with the union, and yet the only cases of murder of which I have heard have been committed under the influence of either love or jealousy. This has always seemed odd to me, as a Kafir girl does not appear at all prone to one or the other. When I say to Maria, “Perhaps you will want to marry some day, Maria, and leave me?” she shakes her head vehemently, and says, “No, no, I should not like to do that: I should have to work much harder, and no one would be kind to me.” Maria too looks compassionately at her savage sister racing along, and murmurs, “Maria would not like to have to run so fast as that.” Certainly, she is not in good condition for a hard gallop across these hills, for she is bursting out of all her gowns, although she is growing very tall as well.

There is no other woman in the bridal cavalcade, which is a numerous one, and closes with a perfect mob of youths and boys grunting and shuffling along. Maria says doubtfully, “I think they are only taking that girl to look at her kraal. She won’t be married just yet, for they say the heer is not ready so soon.” This information is shouted out as some of the party rush past us, but I cannot catch the exact words amid the loud monotonous song with a sort of chorus or accompaniment of grunts.

Ever since my arrival I have wanted to see a real Kafir kraal, but the difficulty has been to find one of any size and retaining any of the distinctive features of such places. There are numbers of them all about the hills which surround Maritzburg, but they are poor degenerate things, the homes of the lowest class of Kafir, a savage in his most disgusting and dangerous state of transition, when he is neither one thing nor the other, and has picked up only the vices of civilization. Such kraals would be unfavorable specimens of a true Kafir village, and only consist of half a dozen ruinous, filthy hovels whose inhabitants would probably beg of you. For some time past I had been inquiring diligently where a really respectable kraal could be found, and at last I heard of one about eight miles off, whose “induna” or head-man gave it a very good character. Accordingly, we set out on a broiling afternoon, so early in the day that the sun was still beating down on us with all his summer tricks of glowing heat and a fierce fire of brightest rays. The road was steep over hill and dale, and it was only when we had climbed to the top of each successive ridge that a breath of cool breeze greeted us. A strange and characteristic panorama gradually spread itself out before and behind us. After the first steep ascent we lost sight of Maritzburg and its bosky streets. From the next ridge we could well see the regular ring of wooded homesteads which lie in a wide circle outside the primitive little town. Each rising down had a couple or so of these suburban villas hid away in gum trees clinging to its swelling sides. Melancholy-looking sides they were now, and dreary was the immediate country around us, for grass-fires had swept the hills for a hundred miles and more, and far as the eye could reach all was black, sere and arid, the wagon-tracks alone winding about in dusty distinctness. The streams had shrunk away to nothing, and scarcely showed between their high banks. It was a positive relief to horse and rider when we had clambered up the rocky track across the highest saddle we had yet needed to mount. Close on our left rose, some three hundred feet straight up against the brass-bright sky, a big bluff with its basalt sides cut down clean and sharp as though by a giant’s knife. In its cold shade a few stunted bushes were feebly struggling to keep their scraggy leaves and branches together, and on the right the ground fell irregularly away down to a valley in which were lovely patches of young forage, making a tender green oasis, precious beyond words in contrast with the black and sun-dried desolation of the hills around. Here too were the inevitable gum trees, not to be despised at this ugly time of year, although they are for all the world like those stiff wooden trees, all of one pattern, peculiar to the model villages in the toys of our youth. With quite as little grace and beauty do these gum trees grow, but yet they are the most valuable things we possess, being excellent natural drainers of marshy soil, kindly absorbers of every stray noxious vapor, and good amateur lightning-conductors into the bargain. Amid these much-abused, not-to-be-done-without trees, then, a gable peeped: it was evidently a thriving, comfortable homestead, yet here my friendly guide and companion drew rein and looked around with deep perplexity on his kindly face.

“How beautiful the view is!” I cried in delight, for indeed the distant sweep of ever-rising mountains, the splendid shadows lying broad and deep over the hills and valleys, the great Umgeni, disdaining even this long drought, and shining here and there like a silver ribbon, now widening into a mere, now making almost an island of some vast tract of country, but always journeying “with a gentle ecstasy,” were all most beautiful. The burnt-up patches gave only a brown umber depth to the hollows in the island hills, and the rich red soil glowed brightly on the bare downs around us as the westering sun touched and warmed them into life and color. I was well content to drop the reins on my old horse’s neck whilst I gazed with greedy eyes on the fair scene, which I felt would change and darken in a very short while. Perhaps it was also this thought which made my companion say anxiously, “Yes, but look how fast the sun is dropping behind that high hill; and where is the kraal? It ought to be exactly here, according to Mazimbulu’s directions, and yet I don’t see a sign of it, do you?”

If his eyes, accustomed since childhood to every nook and cranny in these hills, could not make out where the kraal hid, little chance was there of mine finding it out. But even he was completely at fault, and looked anxiously around like a deer-hound which has lost the scent. The narrow track before us led straight on into the interior for a couple of hundred miles, and in all the panorama at our feet we could not see trace or sign of living creature, nor could the deadliest silence bring sound of voice or life to our strained ears.

“I dare not take you any farther,” Mr. Y—— said: “it is getting much too late already. But how provoking to come all this way and have to go back without finding the kraal!” In vain I tried to comfort him by assurances of how pleasant the ride had been, beguiled by many a hunting-story of days when lions and elephants drank at the stream before us, and when no man’s hand ever lost its clasp of his gun, sleeping or waking. We had come to see a kraal, and it was an expedition manqué if we could not find it. Still, the sun seemed in a tremendous hurry to reach the shelter of that high hill yonder, and even I was constrained to acknowledge we must not go farther along the rocky track before us. At this moment of despair there came swiftly and silently round the sharp edge of the bluff just ahead of us two Kafir-women, with huge bundles of firewood on their heads, and walking rapidly along, as though in a hurry to get home. To my companion Kafir was as familiar as English, so he was at no loss for pleasant words and still more pleasant smiles with which to ask the way to Mazimbulu’s kraal.

“We go there now, O great chieftain!” the women answered with one voice; and, true to the savage code of politeness, they betrayed no surprise as to what we could possibly want at their kraal so late. We had scarcely noticed a faint narrow track on the burnt-up ground to our right, but into this the women unhesitatingly struck, and we followed them as best we could. Scarcely three hundred yards away from the main track, round the shoulder of a down, and nestling close in a sort of natural basin scooped out of the hillside, was the kraal, silent enough now, for all except a few old men and babies were absent. The women, like our guides, were out collecting firewood; some of the younger men and bigger children had gone into town to sell poultry and eggs; others were still at work for the farmer whose homestead stood a mile or two away. There must have been at least a hundred goats skipping about beneath the steep hillside down which we had just come—goats who had ventured to the very edge of the shelf along which our bridle-path had lain, and yet who had never by bleat or inquisitive protruded head betrayed their presence to us. In the centre of the excavation stood a large, high, neatly-wattled fence, forming an enclosure for the cattle at night, a remnant of the custom when Kafir herds were ravaged by wild animals and still wilder neighbors. A very small angle of this place was portioned off as a sty for the biggest and mangiest pig it has ever been my lot to behold—a gaunt and hideous beast, yet the show animal of the kraal, and the first object which Mazimbulu pointed out to us. Of course, Mazimbulu was at home: what is the use of being an induna if you have to exert yourself? He came forward at once to receive us, and did the honors of his kraal most thoroughly and with much grace and dignity. Mr. Y—— explained that I was the wife of another inkosi, and that I was consumed by a desire to see with my own eyes a real Kafir kraal. It is needless to say that this was pleasantly conveyed, and a compliment to this particular kraal neatly introduced here.

Mazimbulu—an immensely tall, powerful elderly man, “ringed” of course, and draped in a large gay blanket—looked at me with half-contemptuous surprise, but saluted to carry off his wonder, and said deprecatingly to Mr. Y——: “O chief, the chieftainess is welcome; but what a strange people are these whites! They have all they can desire, all that is good and beautiful of their own, yet they can find pleasure in looking at where we live! Why, chief, you know their horses and dogs have better places to sleep in than we have. It is all most wonderful, but the chieftainess may be sure we are glad to see her, no matter for what reason she comes.”

There was not very much to see, after all. About twenty large, substantial, comfortable huts, all of the beehive shape, stood in a crescent, the largest in the middle. This belonged to Mazimbulu, and in front of it knelt his newest wife, resting on her heels and cutting up pumpkins into little bits to make a sort of soup, or what she called “scoff.” I think young Mrs. Mazimbulu was one of the handsomest and sulkiest Kafir-women I have yet seen. She was very smart in beads and bangles, her coiffure was elaborate and carefully stained red, her blanket and petticoat were gay and warm and new, and yet she looked the very picture of ill-humor. The vicious way she cut up her pumpkins and pitched the slices into a large pot, the sarcastic glances she cast at Mazimbulu as he invited me to enter his hut, declaring that he was so fortunate in the matter of wives that I should find it the pink of cleanliness! Nothing pleased her, and she refused to talk to me or to “saka bono,” or anything. I never saw such a shrew, and wondered whether poor Mazimbulu had not indeed got a handful in this his latest purchase. And yet he looked quite capable of taking care of himself, and his hand had probably lost none of its old cunning in boxing a refractory bride’s ears, for the damsel in question seemed rather on the watch as to how far she might venture to show her temper. Such a contrast as her healthy, vigorous form made to that of a slight, sickly girl who crawled out of an adjoining hut to see the wonderful spectacle of an “inkosa-casa!” This poor thing was a martyr to sciatica, and indeed had rheumatism apparently in all her joints. She moved aside her kilt of lynx skins to show me a terribly swollen knee, saying plaintively in Kafir, “I ache all over, for always.” Mazimbulu declared in answer to my earnest inquiries that they were all very kind to her, and promised faithfully that a shilling which I put in her hand should remain her own property. “Physic or beads, just as she likes,” he vowed, but seemed well content when I gave another coin into his own hand for snuff. There were not many babies—only three or four miserable sickly creatures, all over sores and dirt and ophthalmia. Yet the youth who held our horses whilst we walked about and Mr. Y—— chatted fluently with Mazimbulu might have stood for the model of a bronze Apollo, so straight and tall and symmetrical were his shapely limbs and his lithe, active young body. He too shouted “Inkosa-casa!” in rapturous gratitude for a sixpence which I gave him, and vowed to bring me fowls to buy whenever the young chickens all around should be big enough.

My commissariat is always on my mind, and I never lose an opportunity of replenishing it, but I must confess that I get horribly cheated whenever I try bargaining on my own account. For instance, I sent out a roving commission the other day for honey, which resulted in the offer of a small jar containing perhaps one pound of empty, black and dirty comb and a tablespoonful of honey, which apparently had already been used to catch flies. For this treasure eight shillings were asked. To-day I tried to buy a goat from Mazimbulu, but he honestly said it would be of no use to me, nor could I extract a promise of milk from the cows I saw coming home just then. He declared that there was no milk to be had; and certainly, when one looks at the surrounding pasture, it is not incredible.

Mazimbulu’s own hut contained little beyond a stool or two, some skins and mats for a bed, a heap of mealie-husks with which to replenish the fire, his shield and a bundle of assegais and knobkerries. There was another smaller wattled enclosure holding a great store of mealies, and another piled up with splendid pumpkins. At the exact top of Mazimbulu’s hut stood a perfect curiosity-shop of lightning-charms—old spear-points, shells, the broken handle of a china jug, and a painted portion of some child’s toy: all that is mysterious or unknown to them must perforce be a lightning-charm. They would no more use a conductor than they would fly, declaring triumphantly that our houses, for all their “fire-wires,” get more often struck by lightning than their huts. Indeed, Mazimbulu became quite pathetic on the subject of the personal risk I was running on account of my prejudice against his lightning-charms, and hinted that I should come to a bad end some day through it.

By the time we had spen............
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