Thursday, December 23, 2010

Suicide by Faith

In South Africa, one of the largest tribes is the Xhosa – an offshoot of the Zulu tribe – or rather, a group that was expelled for following the wrong side during a succession war.

They could have been bumped off, and they knew it, so they put distance between themselves and their erstwhile brothers, traveling down the East Coast and eventually becoming the first black tribe (lucky them) to encounter the whites, who were putting distance between themselves and the British by moving up the East coast.

To say that the relationship was rocky, especially after the British annexed the territory, and began to colonize it, would be an understatement. Little or no love was lost between them.

One day, so the story goes, a young girl whose name I forget (it’s now extinct, and small wonder) had a vision of the ancestors while fetching water at a nearby pool. She immediately went to her uncle, who was the medicine man of her particular clan.

Whether she was put up to it by the uncle (who stood to gain great power through such a vision) or whether she really did go to him with that claim, I cannot say, although I have my suspicions.

At all events, the message from the ancestors was this: ‘Destroy your crops and cattle – every last one of them, and the ancestors will rise up from the sea and throw the white sea scum into the ocean from whence they came.

By the way, the racist term for a white person in South Africa remains ‘Umlungu’ which, I am told refers to the scum found on the beach after a storm. This is a bit bullshitty since history says that white and black arrived in SA pretty simultaneously – the only difference being the mode of transport… but I digress. Back to geno-suicide we go.

The Uncle proceeded to spread the young girl’s tale abroad, possibly producing her for occasional ‘proof’. Don’t laugh, European history is full of the same sort of nonsense – Joan of Arc is just one example.

So the great cattle killing began. For a time, there was great feasting and much meat, but certain clans refused to destroy their means of livelihood. This resulted in divisions and occasional skirmishes, but at last the appointed day arrived and a great crowd gathered at the ‘hole in the wall’ a famous landmark where, it was said, the ancestors would first emerge from the ocean amid the thundering of waves etc.

Uncle what’s his name put up a fine performance, but no ancestors rose from the deep. It was decided that the reason for this was the dissenters – those who had refused to destroy their cattle – and there was much bitterness.

This didn’t help to fill any tummies, as you can imagine, and the faithful died in their thousands. Many of them survived because of the intervention of white missionaries: a bitter pill to swallow – but thousands and thousands died of starvation. The nation all but wiped itself out.

Ironically, the girl who had the vision in the first place, survived. Until her death, she still vouched for the truth of her story, and one of the great conspiracy theories was that the whole thing had been engineered by the then British governor – Napier, I think it was, although I’m a bit shaky when it comes to British governors.

I think it unlikely. Faith has killed thousands before, and it will doubtless do so again.

And that is probably the moral of the story. Beware of Faith, she can be ever such a bitch.

Today's pic: some sea scum. PS: if you don't believe me, google 'Great cattle killing'. I didn't, so there might be some minor omissions and inaccuracies.


  1. What a great story well told, Andrea! I can see John Wayne in there somewhere, but maybe in black. Merry Christmas!

  2. No faith here !

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

  3. Love your history tale. Interesting story, as I know diddily squat about African history. Lots have died from their faith, no matter where it comes from. Enjoy the holiday.

  4. I had faith in your history lesson but my curiosity made me Google it. Interesting stuff for sure.

    Rang more of desperation than anything else. Sad. So much of history is just sad.

  5. Wow, what a story. So similar to so many stories that involve faith. The sad thing is that such things still go on to this day somewhere in the world.

  6. Definitely a story to warn people of making sure they know what they are putting their faith in. Good stuff.

  7. A really interesting and sad story.

  8. And a hairy Xmas and harpy New year to you... just don't drink any Kool Aid.

  9. It is, indeed a memorable tale. Glad everyone found it as interesting as I do. History is full of things that will repeat themselves in different ways and in different places.

    Hope everyone had a good festive season! Please note AoteaWriter's advice - if its not too late already!