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Specimens of Bushman Folklore

W. H. I. Bleek And L. C. Lloyd

Available as PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook.

Tags: Folklore

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Published in 1911, Specimens of Bushman Folklore offers an interesting glimpse into folk tales, personal accounts and songs of the bushmen. Stories such as The Man Who Found A Lion In A Cave, The Leopard And The Jackal, The Girl Of The Early Race, Who Made Stars and The Man Who Ordered His Wife To Cut Off His Ears. Very heavy with footnotes.

This book has 203 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1911.

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Excerpt from 'Specimens of Bushman Folklore'

THE Bushmen were members of a division of the human species that in all probability once occupied the whole, or nearly the whole, of the African continent. It would seem that they were either totally exterminated or partly exterminated and partly absorbed by more robust races pressing down from the north, except in a few secluded localities where they could manage to hold their own, and that as a distinct people they bad disappeared from nearly the whole of Northern and Central Africa before white men made their first appearance there. Schweinfurth, Junker, Stanley, Von Wissmann, and other explorers and residents in the equatorial regions, who have had intercourse with the pygmies still existing in the depths of the dark forest west of the Albert Nyanza, have given descriptions of these people which show almost beyond a doubt that they and the Bushmen of South Africa are one in race. All the physical characteristics are the same, if we allow for the full open eye of the northern pygmy being due to his living in forest gloom, and the sunken half-closed eye of the southern Bushman to his life being passed in the glare of an unclouded sun.

The average height of adult male Bushmen, as given by Fritsch and other observers from careful measurement, is 144.4 centimetres or 56-85 inches. Von Wissmann gives the height of some pygmies that he measured as from 140 to 145 centimetres, or about the same.

Schweinfurth's description not only of the bodily but of the mental characteristics of his pygmy would hold good for one of the southern stock, Junker's photographs might have been taken on the Orange river; and no one acquainted with Bushman can read the charming account of the imp Blasiyo, given by Mrs. R. B. Fisher in her book On the Borders of Pygmy Land, without recognising the aborigine of South Africa. Whether he is blowing a great horn and capering under the dining-room window, or caning the big Bantu men in the class which he is teaching to read in the mission school at Kabarole, in order to make them respect him, the portrait in words which Mrs. Fisher has given of that exceedingly interesting pygmy is true to the life of one of those with whom this volume deals.

But those isolated remnants of a race that there is every reason to believe was once widely spread do not offer to ethnologists such an excellent subject for study as might at first thought be supposed, for it would appear from the observations of travellers that they have lost their original language, though this is not altogether certain. Savages though having the passions and the bodily strength of men, are children in mind and children in the facility with which they acquire other forms of speech than those of their parents. The rapidity with which a Bushman learned to speak Dutch or English, when he was brought into contact with white people in South Africa, was regarded as almost marvellous in the early days of the Cape Colony. And so the Bushmen or pygmies of the north, hemmed in by Bantu, although not on friendly terms with them, learned to speak Bantu dialects and may have lost their own ancient tongue. This is to be gathered from what travellers have related, but no one has yet lived long enough with them to be able to say definitely that among themselves they do not speak a distinct language, and use a corrupt Bantu dialect when conversing with strangers. But whether this be so or not, they must have lost much of their original lore, or it must at least have changed its form.

South of the Zambesi and Kunene rivers, in addition to the Bushmen, two races had penetrated before our own. One of those was composed of the people termed by us Hottentots, who at a very remote time probably had Bushmen as one of its ancestral stocks, and certainly in recent centuries had incorporated great numbers of Bushman girls. But these people never went far from the coast, though they continued their migrations along the border of the ocean all the way round from the Kunene to a little beyond the Umzimvubu, where their further progress was stopped by the Bantu advancing on that side. Where they originally resided cannot be stated positively, but there is strong reason for believing that in ancient times they occupied the territory now called Somaliland. The references to Punt in early Egyptian history, and the portrait of the queen of that country so often described by different writers, may be mentioned as one of the indications leading to this belief. Another, and perhaps stronger, indication is the large number of drilled stones of the exact size and pattern of those used by the Hottentots in South Africa--different in form from those manufactured by Bushmen--that have been found in Somaliland, an excellent collection of which can, be seen in the ethnological museum in Berlin. The Hottentots, according to their own traditions, came from some far distant country in the northeast, and they cannot have crossed the Kunene many centuries before Europeans made their first appearance at the extremity of the continent. This is conclusively proved by the fact that the dialects spoken by the tribes in Namaqualand and beyond Algoa Bay on the south-eastern coast differed slightly that the people of one could understand the people of the other without much difficulty, which would certainly not have been the case if they had been many centuries separated. They had no intercourse with each other, and yet towards the close of the seventeenth century an interpreter belonging to a tribe in the neighbourhood of the Cape peninsula, when accompanying Dutch trading parties, conversed with ease with them all.

In our present state of knowledge it is impossible to say when the Bantu first crossed the Zambesi, because it is altogether uncertain whether there were, or were not, tribes of black men in the territory now termed Rhodesia before the ancestors of the present occupants moved down from the north; but those at present in the country cannot claim a possession of more than seven or eight hundred years. When the Europeans formed their first settlements, the area occupied by the Bantu was small compared with what it is to-day, and a vast region inland from the Kathlamba mountains nearly to the Atlantic shore was inhabited exclusively by Bushmen. That region included the whole of the present Cape province except the coast belt, the whole of Basutoland and the Orange Free State, the greater part, if not the whole, of the Transvaal province, and much of Betshuanaland, the Kalahari, and Hereroland. The paintings on rocks found in Southern Rhodesia at the present day afford proof of a not very remote occupation by Bushmen of that territory, but they give evidence also that the big dark-coloured Bantu were already there as well.

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