1899 - 1902



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For the domestic character of the Boer we will consult the Scandinavian traveller Sparrmann, who gives us one of the earliest sketches of the Boer "at  home." Though the illusion that the industrious and cleanly Hollander was merely transplanted from one soil to another is somewhat dispelled, the picture is generally acknowledged to be a true one.

"It is hardly to be conceived," he wrote in 1776, "with  what little trouble the Boer gets into order a field of a moderate size .so that . . . he may be almost said to make the cultivation of it, for the bread he stands in need of for himself and his family, a mere matter of  amusement. . . . With pleasure, but without the least trouble to himself he sees the herds and flocks which constitute his riches daily and considerably increasing. These are driven to pasture and home again by a few Hottentots  or slaves, who likewise make the butter; so that it is almost only with the milking that the farmer, together with his wife and children, concern themselves at all. To do this business, however, he has no occasion to rise  before seven or eight o'clock in the morning. . . . That they (the Boers) might not put their arms and bodies out of the easy and commodious posture in which they had laid them on the couch when they were taking their afternoon siesta, they have been known to receive travellers lying quite still and motionless, excepting that they have very civilly pointed out the road by moving their foot to the right or left. . . . Among a set of beings so  devoted to their ease, one might naturally expect to meet with a variety of the most commodious easy-chairs and sofas; but the truth is, that they find it much more commodious to avoid the trouble of inventing and making them.  . . Nor did the inhabitants exhibit much less simplicity and moderation; or, to speak more properly, slovenliness and penury in their dress than in their furniture. . . . The distance at which they are from the Cape may,  indeed, be some excuse for their having no other earthenware or china in their houses but what was cracked or broken; but this, methinks, should not prevent them being in possession of more than one or two old pewter pots, and  some few plates of the same metal; so that two people are frequently obliged to eat out of one dish, besides using it or every different article of food that comes upon the table. Each guest must bring his knife with him, and  for forks they frequently make use of their fingers. The most wealthy farmer here is considered as being well dressed in a jacket of home-made cloth, or something of the kind made of any other coarse cloth, breeches of  undressed leather, woollen stockings, a striped waistcoat, a cotton handkerchief about his neck, a coarse calico shirt, Hottentot field-shoes, or else leathern shoes with brass buckles, and a coarse hat. Indeed, it is not in  dress, but in the number and thriving condition of their cattle, and chiefly in the stoutness of their draught oxen, that these peasants vie with each other. It is likewise by activity and manly actions, and by other qualities  that render a man fit for the married state, and the rearing of a family, that the youth chiefly obtain the esteem of the fair sex.,... A plain close cap and a coarse cotton gown, virtue and good housewifery, are looked upon by  the fair sex as sufficient ornaments for their persons; a flirting disposition, coquetry and paint would have very little effect in making conquests of young men brought up in so hardy a manner, and who have had so homely and  artless an education as the youth in this place. In short, here if anywhere in the world, one may lead an innocent, virtuous, and happy life."

When viewing this study of rustic indolence, we must remember also the  conditions under which it was found. The natural fertility of the Country, the demoralising influence of slave-owning, the great heat of the climate, were responsible for the change that so soon came over the primitive Dutch  character. Dr. Theal's account of the Boer adds colour to the picture given by the Swede, and shows us that a certain sense of refinement was lurking in the stolid and not too picturesque disposition.

"The amusements of  the people were few. . . Those who p05sessed numerous slaves usually had three or four of them trained to the use of the violin, the blacks being peculiarly gifted with an ear for music, and easily learning to play by sound.  They had thus the means at hand of amusing theirselves with dancing, and of entertaining visitors with music. The branches of widely extended families were constantly exchanging visits with each other. A farmer would make his  waggon ready regularly every year, when half the household or more would leave home, and spend a week or two with each relative, often being absent a couple of months. Birthday anniversaries of aged people were celebrated by  the assembling of their descendants, frequently to the number of eighty or a hundred, at the residence of the patriarch, when a feast was prepared for their entertainment. These different reunions were naturally productive of  great pleasure, and tended to cement the friendship and love of those who otherwise might seldom see each other. The life led by the people when at home was exceedingly tame. The mistress of the house, who moved about but  little, issued orders to slaves or Hottentot females concerning the work of the household. If the weather was chilly or damp, she rested her feet on a little box filled with live coals, while beside her stood a coffee kettle  never empty. The head of the family usually inspected his flocks morning and evening, and passed the remainder of the day, like his helpmate, in the enjoyment of ease. When repose itself became wearisome, he mounted his horse,  and, with an attendant to carry his gun, set off in pursuit of some of the wild animals with which the country then abounded. The children had few games, and, though strong and healthy, were far from sprightly."

A  dislike for the English seems to have been felt by the Cape Dutch very early. This dislike later hostilities must have heightened; but as far back as iSi6 we learn that even shrewd and sensible farmers were heard to declaim  against our methods of scientific agriculture, and resist all efforts at its introduction into their work. One of them, when informed of the saving of time and labour that certain implements would effect, answered with  characteristic conservatism. "What," said he, "would you have us do? Our only concern is to fill our bellies, to get good clothes and houses, to say to one slave, 'Do this,' and to another, 'Do that,' and to sit  idle ourselves and be waited upon. As to our tillage, or building, or planting, our forefathers did so and so and were satisfied, and why should not we do the same? The English want us to use their ploughs instead of our heavy  wooden ones, and recommend other implements of husbandry than those we have been used to; but we like our old things best."

This preference for the old instead of the new has been the rock on which friendship between  Briton and Doer has split. All ideas of reform have been met with suspicion-a kind of suspicion that, though now confined to the Boers, was Very prevalent in Europe a hundred years ago. The present writer in extreme youth met  here, in advanced England, a grandma of ninety (the mother of a very distinguished politician), who stated that she could "never make a friend of a man who took a bath." It will be seen by this how prejudice may  become a matter of habit all the world over.

Mr. Nixon tells a story of an equally conservative Boer. This worthy went to a store at Kimberley with bundles of tobacco for sale. The Boer carefully weighed them out with some  scales of his own that were evidently an heirloom. The storekeeper reweighed the bundles, remarking on the antiquity of the scales, and observing that they gave short weight. He suggested the use of the store scales as the  standard for computing the price, which was to be fixed at so much a pound. But the Boer would not hear of it. 'No," said he, "these were my father's scales, and he was a wise man and was neyer cheated, and I won't  use anybody else's." The storekeeper dryly rcn~arked that he did not desire to press the matter, since he found himself a gainer by £12 in consequence of the Boer's conservative instincts!

Many writers urge that the Boer is naturally uneivil, that he lacks the true feeling of  hospitality. The original Doer, before he was seized with a hatred for the British, was more justly speaking lacking in civility than what we term uncivil. He knew nothing of the art of being obliging to his fellow-creatures,  merely because they were his fellow-creatures. He would entertain a stranger, and ask nothing in return, but he would do so without courtesy, and would put himself out of the way for no one. The traveller might take him or  leave him, conform to his hours and habits entirely, and, to use the vulgar phrase, "like them or lump them" as his temperament might decide. "Africanus," who, in his book on "The Transvaal Boers,"  writes of them with judgment and without prejudice, gives a very true sketch, which exactly describes the strange blend of piety, indolence, ignorance, and ferocity which we are endeavouring to study. He says

"The Dutch  farmer is in some respects very unlike his supposed counterpart in England. His pursuits are pastoral, not agricultural, for in most parts of South Africa the want of irrigation renders the cultivation of cereals impossible.  His idea of a 'farm' is a tract of at least 6ooo acres, over which his flocks and herds can move from one pasture to another. His labourers are' all natives, and though, before the advent of storekeepers, he used often to make  his own clothes, boots (veld-schoen), and harness, he looks on actual farm-work as a menial pursuit. He was, and is, wont to pass whole days in the saddle, but, to an English eye, his horses seem unkempt and often ill-used. The  magnificent herds of game which wandered over South Africa sixty years ago tempted him to become a keen sportsman, but he has never shown much 'sporting instinct,' and the Boer is responsible for the wanton destruction of the  African fauna.. The unsophisticated Boer is a curious blend of hospitality and avarice; he would welcome the passing stranger, and entertain him to the best of his ability, but he seized any opportunity of making money,and the discovery that hides and skins were marketable induced him to  slaughter antelopes without the slightest forethought. That theBoer is  no longer hospitable is very largely due to the way in which his hospitality has been abused by stray pedlars and ne'er-do-wells of various kinds. He still retains a sincere and primitive piety, but his belief that he is a  member of the chosen people has sometimes tended to antinomianism rather than to strict morality. His con-' tempt and dislike for the Kaffir has preserved the Dutch stock from taint of black blood, and although there is a large  Eur-African population, it has sprung partly from the old days of domestic slavery, partly from the laxity induced by the recent influx of low-class Europeans. The Boer has a strong national feeling, and although not exactly  daring as a rule, he is perfectly ready to risk his life in what he believes to be a good cause. He fights better behind cover than in the open, and has a profound contempt for soldiers who expose themselves unnecessarily. At  the same time, he is capable at times of embarking on a forlorn hope. As regards his private character, his notions of honesty and of truth are lax. But then, from bitter experience, he assumes that the stranger will try to  cheat him, and it is not surprising that he should consider a certain amount of finesse justifiable. He is comparatively free from that drunkenness which is the besetting vice of the low-class Englishman in Africa.

"Although he is incredibly ignorant, and very self-satisfied, it is somewhat irritating to notice the way in which the town-bred Englishman is apt to depreciate him. It is not so certain as the latter thinks that an  ignorant peasant is necessarily a lower type of man than a 'smart' and vicious shop-boy.

The most unpleasing trait in the Boer character is his calousness, amounting to brutality, in the case of natives and of animals.

It  must always be remembered that in discussing the early Boer we are discussing the peasant, and that neither his ignorance nor other shortcomings must be viewed in comparison with the failings of persons of a higher social  grade. When the Boers left the Cape Colony they had no knowledge of what the word education meant. Tbe state of public education in 1837 was deplorable. There were missionary schools and a few desultory teachers, who had in  very few cases the mental or the moral qualities to fit them for the task of instruction. The most they did was to teach the young idea how to read or scribble its name. For this they received trifling fees, but doubtless these  fees were no more trifling than the services rendered. Such free schools as existed, and were nominally supported by Government, were so indifferently managed that they were treated with contempt, even by the farmers. So long  as they could thumb out their favourite passages of the Psalms, and sign what few documents they required, they were content. Of their ignorance they were even inclined to be proud. Their own notions of geography and history  seemed to them infinitely preferable to any that might be offered, and in this state of blissful ignorance they trekked away from Cape Colony to learn no more. When they started forth, some, it is averred, imagined by steadily  working north they would reach Jerusalem; others, covered with faith, and armed with gospel and sjambok, sincerely believed that eventually they would reach the Promised Land.