Giants used to walk around Southern Africa but less than two hundred years later their trails have almost gone cold ...
This is the incredible adventure of a giant that found himself at the frontiers of his world. Born in the Cape, he gradually moved east to became an advisor to the King of the Xhosas, then ended up having an affair with the Kings mother. He soon crossed the Gariep river looking for new hunting grounds that led him to the edge of the Kalahari desert as Chief of the Springbok-Korannas. Bushmen stories from his childhood and his discovery of the lost cities of the Kalahari all pointed to trade with far-away countries. Myths, stories, ruins, Jews living in the Zoutpansberg and age-old tracks in the bush point to the elusive land of Ophir with its wealth in gold and diamonds....
Did Coenraad discover the mines used by King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?
I have lots of wonderful stories to tell ... but as you
will pretty soon find out, English is my second language and I
need some help in correcting my use of it. If you are good in English
and a person keen to help an aspiring writer, please contact me. I can
use all the help I can get in fixing up these little stories and making
it more accessible and enjoyable for others to read. Please email me at:
Artist Hazel Cramptons impression of Coenraad de Buys.
Note to researchers: Please consider
this as a romanticised account of the adventures of Coenraad de Buys.
The text of these mostly fictional historic events should not be used
towards substantiating any of this information as fact.
This giant story can best be told in
In the first part I would like to
present the evidence and subtle clues that Coenraad and his friends
came across during their travel to the areas around the Zoutpansberg.
This part is called EXPLORATION because that is really what they were
doing for six months on horse-back in the unknown areas North of the
Gariep River. During this trip Coenraad fell in love with the
countryside around the Zoutpansberg and realised that age-old trade
routes might lead him to untold riches.
Coenraad packed up all his belongings
and a substantial family to cross the great Gariep River and lead
them into the wild unknown of Southern Africa. The second part could
be called EXODUS because it became an epic journey where he
systematically searched the interior of South Africa for these
ancient trade routes that would lead him to the land of Ophir. In the
process he got involved with some shady characters and fell foul of
the law and the English government in the Cape. His travels also took
him to some exotic and out of the way places, known to very few
people. He discovered the ruins of mighty African kingdoms hidden in
the bush and learned about trade with far away places that has been
going on for thousands of years.
When he stood at the threshold of his
biggest discovery and just when he was about to connect the final
dots in this monumental puzzle; the bottom dropped out of his world.
His wife and soul-mate died of Malaria as they reached the foothills
of Blouberg. This giant of a man was reduced to a crying baby. After
her funeral he gave the family bible to his favourite sons and told
them to settle on the Southern slopes of the Zoutpansberg and wait
for him. That night he disappeared never to be seen again. Part three
could be called EXTRAPOLATION where we follow him into the night and
learn how he decided to continue his quest without putting his whole
family at risk. He could move much faster now but was he taking too
much of a risk to get to the gold?
The French Revolution changed European politics forever.
The Ducth influence was on the decline.
The British Empire was on the rise...
Many, many, many summers ago when
Kaggen, the mantis, created the moon, it was so close that we could
see the winged gods and the people on it. They came from the stars
and the old man pointed towards Orion's belt like it was a well known
fact. Yes they could also see the Bushmen and many of them liked to
watch when the Bushmen were hunting. The strongest of these Bushmen
hunters was ThxawaThxini and he didn’t like it if anybody watched
him. One evening just before the moon came up; he climbed to the
highest peak of the Chimanimani mountains and waited. He took his
best, a bone-tipped arrow to shoot it at the watchers. The Bushmen of
antiquity had many powers and they were not scared of the gods from
the sky. It was one mighty effort of bow and hunter to get the arrow
to reach the moon. Unfortunately he hit one of the gods in the arse
just as he was bending over the cooking fire.
This god got such a fright that he
burned himself and that made him really angry at ThxawaThxini. He
took one of the pots from the fire and threw its contents onto the
Bushmen hunter. It was a pot of melted gold that fell north of the
Limpopo river in the land of the Shona people. The brave hunter was
running South to get away from this fire that fell from the sky. Next
the fire god grabbed a pot full of copper and threw that at
ThxawaThxini just as he was crossing the Limpopo river. Bushmen
hunters then could run as fast as the wind and the burning copper
fell far behind him, north of the Zoutpansberg. ThxawaThxini turned
himself into a cheetah and was still running West when a pot of
silver flew high over his head and landed on the other side of the
mighty Hippo river. The only effect it had was to turn the hunter
South towards the mountains.
This made the god really cross and he
took the biggest and most valuable of his pots, a pot of molten iron
and threw that at the hunter. The fire god aimed ahead of
ThxawaThxini where he would be slowed down by the crossing of the
Crocodile river. Just to make sure, this god took a second pot of
molten iron and threw that just short of the great Gariep river. If
the first pot missed then surely the second one would hit
ThxawaThxini. Now there was fire all over the sky and the brave
Bushman didn't know which way to run. Just where he was slowed down
by the crossing of the Crocodile river he met his end. The strong
brave hunter was buried under a mountain of iron that to this day is
known to everyone as Thxaba Zimbi. (Mountain of Iron.)
With veld fires raging everywhere and
fearing for their lives his clan trekked from the Chimanimani
mountains to the deserts of the Khxalahari and the Namieb. All his
wives and children cried for him, big shiny tears that to this day
can be found in the sand along the rivers of South Africa. “Those
could be diamonds”, said Johannes with a twinkle in his eye. “We
already know where Thabazimbi is”, said Samburu. “Let the old man
finish his story”, was Coenraad's calming comment.
The fire god punished the Bushmen by
taking away their powers and turning all the other peoples against
them. The “ouvolk” of antiquity used to be able to change
themselves into anything they wanted but not any more. Wherever the
Bushmen went, they were hunted like animals and always driven back to
the desert. Nobody wanted the Bushmen to live amongst them for fear
of the wrath of the fire gods. At last ThxawaThxini's clan crossed
the great Hippo river that divided the desert from the forests. They
cried so much for their beloved hunter that the river started filling
up with their tears. With so much water the hippo multiplied and
eventually there were so many that they stomped the edge of the river
into a soft mud. The mud was so soft and there was so much water that
the land on the far side of the river started drifting away on the
wind. After many generations they drifted away over the horizon never
to be seen again. But we know that they are still there because at
night their fires reflect in the watery lakes of the heavens.
Once all of ThxawaThxini's descendants
disappeared over the horizon the fire god was satisfied. But he took
one more precaution and that was to move the moon further away so
that nobody would ever be able to shoot an arrow all the way to the
moon again. . .
There was a long silence around the
fire that night. This unusual gathering of different people just
stared as if hypnotized into the flickering flames of the camp fire.
The giggling of a hyena in the distance in contrasts with the
otherwise soothing sounds of the African bush. Everyone saw a
different story in the way the flames danced on the logs and in the
crackling conversation of the fire turning wood into hot coals. It is
easy to understand why some people still believe that fire could only
come from the gods. Coenraad re-arranged some of the logs on the fire
and sparked an explosion of thousands of glowing embers drawn into
the night sky.
Even in the light of the camp fire it
was clear that this old Bushmen spent many years in the African sun.
His whole body was full of wrinkles – he looked more like a bag of
bones covered in a badly wrinkled yellow-brown skin. He sat with his
good leg pulled up against his wrinkled stomach and the stump of his
other leg pointing 45 degrees away from the ground. This leg was
freshly bandaged to protect the amputation just below the knee. Next
to him was Samburu a strong pitch black African man originally from
Mozambique. Coenraad's grandfather bought him as a boy at a slave
market in Cape Town for sixty Rickdaalders. Almost hanging over
Samburu was a young man that called himself Antonie van de Kust,
watching the Bushmen's every move and gesture. His features were more
Indian than African and he claims that his parents were both from
On the other side of the Bushman sat a
giant of a man (seven feet tall) Coenraad de Buys, the only one that
can make some sense from the old mans clicks and clacks. With
Coenraad’s explanations and the hand and body gestures from the old
Bushman, the small audience found themselves drawn deeper and deeper
into his world. With the help of the fire and the flames it felt like
they could almost read his mind. But what a combination of black,
tiny yellow and giant blond men on the other side of that fire. Not
that the rest of the group was any less odd in its make-up.
Coenraad's older sister, his youngest brother and a Hottentot called
Hendrik made up the rest of the party. Hendrik has been like an older
brother to Coenraad and they have been together since their days of
hiding in the Sederberg. The only woman was Sansunna, a very tall,
(six foot six) 37 year old spinster, with long blond hair hanging in
a ponytail on her back. Next to her sat her youngest brother Johannes
and between him and Coenraad the tall Hottentot man, Hendrik. Indeed
an unusual gathering of different souls around this fire many weeks
travel from the nearest civilization or so they thought...
The focus of attention keeps shifting
between the old Bushman and Coenraad. “What happened after that”,
Coenraad tries to coach it out of the old hunter in his best effort
of clicks and clacks. Bushmen are expert story-tellers but have a
tendency to stretch it out and make the listeners wait for the
details. More so if they are trying to negotiate a reward for their
stories. In this case the old hunter wanted a span of chewing tobacco
to calm the pain of his amputated leg. “Cut him just one koutjie.”
Coenraad looked at Antonie that was struggling to tear himself away
from the conversation to cut one bite from the roll of tobacco in the
saddle bag. With a plug of tobacco rolling around in his cheek the
old Bushman continued his story.
The fire god was still cross with the
Bushmen, that is why he took his fire and moved to the other side of
the moon. When the moon moved further and further away the nights
became colder and colder. In the deserts of the Khxalahari and the
Namieb even more so and the Bushmen were destined to shiver in the
chill of the night and fry in the heat of the day. Some winters would
be so cold that the water in the ostrich eggs and calabashes would
freeze solid. Only those Bushmen that learned how to make fire were
able to survive the winters. It was on such a cold winters night
about a week ago that this old timer burned his foot sleeping too
close to the fire. But let us take a step back to find out what this
group was doing here in the African bush-veld and how the old Bushman
lost part of his leg.
The French Revolution changed the
political landscape forever. Descendants of the French Huguenots as
far as the Southern tip of Africa felt excited about the change and
the violent birth of democracy in Europe. Pioneers also called “trek
boers” like the Kruger family were living on the fringes of the
Cape colony, making a living from herding cattle and hunting wild
animals. Other pioneers like Coenraad de Buys moved Eastward and
leased farms from the government. Coenraad leased three farms one in
the Camdeboo, another in the Zuurveldt and a third between the
Sundays and Bushman rivers of the eastern Cape. This put him right on
the frontier and well positioned for his secondary business of
hunting elephant for their ivory. On one of these hunting trips he
met a runaway slave called Bengali, who could speak Dutch and acted
as an interpreter at the court of Ndlambe the acting Xhosa chief.
Coenraad knew he would soon be able to do a much better job of it
It didn't take him long to learn how to
speak Xhosa. He spoke Dutch and English very well a little bit of
French and could communicate effectively with the Hottentot and
Bushman in the Cape. Mindful of the political instability after the
Dutch lost to the English at the Battle of Blaauwberg, the Xhosa
warriors raided the Boer farms in the summer of 1795. Coenraad's farm
was burned to the ground and he lost everything. All the other
farmers got together to form a “straf kommando”, to punish the
Xhosa. Yet he felt himself freed from the burdens of constant
payments and did just the opposite of all the other Boers. He packed
all his belongings on a wagon and took his whole family across the
great Fishriver and started living amongst the Xhosa people as an
interpreter to King Ghika and his mother Yese. Many of his
neighbours were sure that he lost his mind and would soon be dead
like the Hubner party of elephant hunters.
Coenraad found more than just a friend
in the passionate queen of the Xhosas. The young chief Ngqika was
still too young to govern his people. His mother Yese, reigned as
queen, together with her late husband's brother Ndlambe. As the
great wife of the previous chief-to-be, Mlawu, it was expected of her
to look for some strong manly genes and produce more heirs for her
late husband's house. Therefore the passionate affair that she had
with the giant elephant hunter, was perfectly acceptable to the Xhosa
people. Coenraad soon found himself as a trusted and admired advisor
to the royal house.
Next time, meet more of the main characters in the story and find out what happened to the old Bushman's leg...
This is a call for any information relating to Coenraad's visit to the Driekoppies area. If you are from that area or have family still living there, please ask them about this possible visit and where "Potberg" got its name from.
Do you have any idea what these pots high up in the mountain were used for. I know about similar pots in caves near Thabazimbi and was wondering how many more places have these and what there purpose is.
If you have any information for me - I would love to hear about it. My next area of interest is only 25 km North-West from here. Blouberg dominates the area to the West of Zoutpansberg and was one of Coenraads favorite hunting grounds. My next project is to get some nice pictures of Blouberg and its famous vulture colonies.
Amazing landscape of the Driekoppie area.
Valley of faces?
Potberg from the air. Why does it feel like someone is staring at me?
The South side of Potberg.
Can you see the row of clay pots hidden under the overhang high up in Potberg?
What was hidden in these giant pots? Did they hide valuables in it away from their enemies or did they bury their royalty in it?
The top of Potberg. Who were the white people that tried to climb the mountain and gave up when one of them fell to his death?
Here is a closer view of those pots. How do you get pots like these that high up against a vertical cliff?
These are not the only pots in Potberg! There were more of them but these seem to have weathered the elements better than the rest.
If you have more information about these fascinating pots or the history of the people that made them - please email me. I would really like to find out more about this and the possibility that Coenraad tried to climb the mountain. These pots are not visible from the ground and the mountain could only have got its name from someone that knew about these pots.
Our early morning visit to the chief of
the Hananwa people near Driekoppies was hurried along by the sudden
arrival of the “people from the misty mountains”. Women scurried
around gathering the half empty pots of magew as an indication that
the meeting with the chief has now come to an end. This is very
unusual and we were curious about these visitors that were held in
such high regard by the chief. Unannounced visitors of lower standing
were sometimes left under the waiting tree for a number of days
before the chief will meet with them.
They dressed different to any of the
other tribes that we have come across up to now. Their tall athletic
frames were draped in biblical style cotton frocks held around their
waste by a strong leather belt. Nutty brown calabashes were hanging
from their belts but were to big to only be used as decorations. One
of them possibly the leader had an Egyptian style amulet around his
neck, the centre piece contained weird looking golden symbols set in
blue lacquer with wings stretching out to the sides. When they saw
Coenraad and the size of him, they dropped onto their left knee and
lowered their heads until it touched their right knee. Their hands
held in front of them in a submissive gesture. None of them moved a
limb or finger, not even when they were introduced to us by one of
the local indunas. They were introduced as the “snake and vulture
people from the misty mountains”. We were introduced as the “beast
riders from the plains of the South”. Still none of them moved...
The pollygar's golden amulet
Only when Coenraad started speaking did
their pollygar or leader look up at him and when Coenraad directly
addressed the pollygar, did the rest of the group look up at him.
Coenraad immediately gestured to them to get up from this kneeling
position back onto their feet. Their leader wore a very striking
golden amulet around his neck that could have been of Egyptian
origin. As soon as they were on their feet the indunas ushered them
past us and into the royal boma to see the chief. We were left
standing there with dozens of questions buzzing around our heads.
Coenraad couldn’t contain his
curiosity and tried to find out more about these people. We were told
that they are a group of people living high up in the “misty
mountains” that we called Bromberg. They were half Bushmen half
Tzwana descendants of a older group of people that worked with snakes
and vultures. They were feared by all the other tribes and only paid
homage and obedience to this chief Buibui of the Batlokwa peoples
that lived near Potberg. They were considered wizards and shaman that
were fearless and communicated with the ancestors of the vulture
These people fed their snakes a mixture
of sour milk and honey and claimed to be immune to the bite of any
snake. On their annual pilgrimage to Potberg, some of these people
would demonstrate their powers by biting off the head of a serpent
and some of the others would join in to eat the snake raw till
nothing was left of it. Of course we have to see this and made
ourselves at home under the “waiting tree”. We had so many
questions about these mysterious people, very few of which the locals
could answer for us. Apparently they have been living in the
mountains for as long as they can remember but nobody knows what they
do up there. They weave some of their own cloth from a mixture of
wild cotton and spider threads but like to buy different kinds of
cloth from the Gujarati traders when they come.
The leader's snake like upper-arm band
They left the royal enclosure walking
in a procession two by two, each with a digging stick and a Baobab
fibre bag with snakes in it hanging from the end of the stick. They
chanted in a foreign tongue as they marched towards the mountain of
faces and what we later called “Potberg”. On the last ridge
before descending into the clay fields of Ratelspruit, their leader
Manetho, pulled a snake from his bag and held it up to the towering
mountain. He shouted at the top of his voice a message to the spirits
of the mountain:
“Nne mungu wa
ardhi, hewa, maji na moto, sisi ni watoto wa nyoka na kozi!”
According to Samburu
it could be an ancient form of Arabic or Swahili that
calls to the gods of earth, air, water and fire to
tell them that they are the children of the snake and the vulture.
In one move he bit the head off the
poor snake, spit it out on the ground and started to eat the flesh of
the contorting reptile. One of the other members joined in by
starting to eat it from the the tail. A third went to the middle of
the body and bit the snake in half. He started to eat from one of
these parts and a forth joined in eating from the loose end. Each of
these would in turn be bitten in two with more of these wizards
joining in and rapidly repeating the process until very soon every
one of them was chewing away at a raw piece of snake meat.
their grizzly meal they went
down to the moist mud banks lining the
river, to collect clay. They used the digging sticks to break out
chunks of earth, clear out the roots and grass while making into
fist-sized balls. Each of them threw about half a dozen of these red
clay balls into the bags with the snakes. Next they walked into the
water to wash their hands and faces, fill
the calabashes around their wastes, drink
from the water and set off with their bags of red clay and snakes to
climb the steep mountain.
udongo na maji ya kurekebisha nyumba ya mifupa yako!”
“We have brought
the clay and the water to fix the house of your bones!” That I
think is what Manetho said and what I can remember from the Swahili
of my childhood, said Samburu.
wa Ramab na Sitra, kutupa
miguu ya buibui na mabawa ya kozi - Urubu!”
With the call “Urubooooo!”
out of all of them, they stormed the mountain and scaled the vertical
cliffs like baboons with a leopard on their tail.
“Sons of Ramab and
Sitra, give us the legs of a spider and the
wings of the vulture!” Is what he shouted but I don't know what
urubu means – could be the name of a god or animal, possibly a
battle cry. Samburu tried to apologise for
his very basic understanding but we didn't hear a word he said – we
were dumb founded by the reckless way these strange men scaled the
almost vertical cliffs of Potberg. Most of
them went up a type of gully on our right, which would be the
North-western side of the mountain. Yet some of them looked like they
were just going straight up towards the sky.
Niche that held the throne?
Some locals pointed
out to us a recess in the cliff-face that looks like a natural frame
in the rock. Apparently this niche used to hold the throne of the
vulture gods and that they would sit on the throne with the vultures
circling above the mountain and address
these people. It is said that the vulture gods protected them from
the tyrants and giants that used to terrorise mankind. The sons of
Ramab and Sitra married human girls and their offspring became the
kings and queens of antiquity.
Soon these men
looked like ants crawling up a wall and the substantial group of
spectators started braking up and returning to their daily chours. We
were told that these men could stay up in the mountain for a number
of days to fix up the burial pots that their kings were buried in.
Roumer had it that they still mummified their leaders by placing the
prepared bodies into a hollowed-out baobab tree trunk. The bodies
were tied up with leather thongs in a sitting position, head on the
knees and arms folded around the legs. The
conditions inside the baobab would allow the body to slowly dry out
yet the skin didn't loose its flexibility.
After a few weeks the body would be cured
and ready for burial in one of the red clay pots high up against the
We strained our
necks and eyes but couldn't see any of these giant pots. They seem to
build them under overhangs on both sides of the ancient throne and
out of view of any passer-by on the ground. We were really intrigued
by this event and stayed there looking up at the mountain,
hours after the last of the locals left. We wanted to know more but
didn't have anybody to ask. When we started talking about climbing
the mountain the old Bushman couldn't contain himself any longer and
became very vocal about his disapproval of any such idea. Eventually
Coenraad decided that the group should split in two. Half of the
group will go with him and ride around the mountain, while the other
half will stay on this side and look for a suitable camp site for the
Please visit again soon for more news on our group's visit to Potberg and the "Misty Mountains".
One Bushman from the old generation
caused a lot of problems in the community because of his ill temper
and his unsocial behaviour. He showed very little respect to the rest
of his people and abused his powers and standing amongst them. A
strong and brave Bushman with extraordinary powers and access to
magic, he had the potential to be a great leader and respected
hunter. Unfortunately his laziness and bad habits made his fellow
Bushmen resentful but they were scared to challenge him.
The children were especially scared of
him and the “daslat” that he carried with him. A “daslat” is
a long straight shoot that grows from the Karee trees in summer. This
new branch, as thick as a finger and about two meters long, often
grew quite straight and was very flexible.
New Karee shoots growing out of the main trunk.
Tatsie would strip the leaves off this young shoot, to reveal a sticky tip that was ideal for catching dassies. Hiding deep down in their crevasses in the koppies, Tatsie would reach in and push the sticky part of the shoot onto the poor hyraxes. The dassie's hair would stick to the tip of the shoot and by turning the stick; he wound the hair and then the skin around the tip of the “daslat”. This way the unlucky dassie found itself attached to the end of the branch and could be pulled from its hiding place kicking and screaming. He never shared any of this meat or skins of the dassies that he caught. This long thin straight branch is called a “lat” and a single hyrax is a “das”. That is why this straight young Karee shoot was called a “daslat”. No wonder the dassies hated Tatsie.
The sticky tip of a new Karee shoot.
Certain times of the year the
“Watersnake” would move far away and the land of the Bushmen
would get very dry. During those times the children have to walk long
distances to fetch water for the household. The bigger and stronger
of the children could carry a whole springbok stomach full of water
but the younger ones only two ostrich eggs filled with water. Tatsie
was too lazy to go and fetch water, for himself. He would wait for
the children to come back and take one of the eggs and drink the
water from it. If the child protested or cried he would simply break
the egg on the ground and they would get into trouble with their
parents. When he was very thirsty or wanted to wash his hands he
would grab the springbok “pens” or stomach from one of the bigger
children and use all of that water. If the child protested or tried
to run away he would cut a hole in it with his knife and drink from
the water pouring out of the hole.
The children tried to
avoid him and would run away when they saw him coming. He could run
very fast for his size and would hit them over the head with his
“daslat” until they stop. They complained to their parents about
Tatsie's nasty habits but to no avail. The parents had their own
problems with Tatsie and because he was so much bigger and stronger,
they were afraid of him. On top of it all Tatsie also knew some very
powerful magic and that was why most of the adults pretended to like
him. They would smile at him and be friendly towards him but deep in
their hearts they rather wished he was dead. He would pitch up
unannounced at the most inconvenient times and it wouldn't bother him
at all. His uncanny ability to know when the meat was almost ready
amazed them the most. It didn't bother him in the least to walk in on
a family and cut the juiciest piece of eland meat for himself .
Even when food was scarce, he would walk in and dish up most
of the “Bushmen rice”. Women would gather thousands of termites
and fry it on the fire to make “Bushmen rice”. If they complained
about him taking the “Bushmen rice” he would just say that there
are still thousands of termites out there for them to gather
tomorrow. When asked why he doesn't collect his own “Bushmen rice”
he would say that he has better things to do. If the women tried to
take the food from him or start nagging him to give it back he would
eat his fill and throw the rest into the fire to burn. This unsocial
behaviour carried on for a long time and the Bushmen even tried to
move away from the place where they were staying but he followed them
wherever they went.
One year there were many tortoises in the
veld and the Bushmen would just pick them up and take them home to
eat. They noticed that Tatsie would never eat the heart or liver of
the tortoise which were sought after morsels to the other Bushmen.
One evening one of the wise old Bushmen women came across the owl and
asked him what they could do to get the upper hand over Tatsie. The
owl softly whispered into her ear (because even he was scared of
Tatsie) to give him the heart and liver of a tortoise to eat. When
she tried to do that he just threw it into the fire and murmured to
himself that it would make him dumb and slow like a tortoise. That
gave her an idea, which she kept secret even from her own husband
because she was scared of Tatsie's magic.
Note the sharp beak of the tortoise.
The next time the men brought some nice
fat eland meat home, the wise lady took the heart and liver of a
tortoise and hid it in the juiciest part of the meat before they
started to “braai” the meat over the open fire. Lo and behold
when the meat was almost perfectly cooked Tatsie walked into the
circle of light around the fire and asked what they were busy cooking
for dinner. They just looked at him and put on their fake smiles as
usual. He didn't wait for an answer and as usual proceeded to cut a
large piece of the juiciest meat for himself, hardly leaving enough
for the others to eat. Once he finished his meat the wise old lady
noticed that he was moving much slower and asked him some questions.
“Why don't you eat the heart and liver of the tortoise?”
“Because - - it will - - make - - me - - mmm - -
dumb - - and - - slow - - just like - - my cousin - - er - - the - -
tortoise”, he answered in a slow and slurry voice without looking
up from the fire.
That is what the wise old lady was waiting
for and she called her husband aside and told him to shoot Tatsie
with one of his poison arrows. Tatsie didn't even know what hit him
and after a short while fell over backwards and died. All the Bushmen
were shouting in celebration and were so happy to get the upper hand
over Tatsie that they danced around the fire most of the night. They
kicked sand into his eyes to stop him from recognizing them and even
the children spat on him and laughed happily because he was dead!
Later they pulled his body far away from the kraal and left him there
for the wild animals to eat. When they heard his bones being crushed
by the hyenas and the jackals fighting over the pieces, they didn't
feel sorry at all and carried on sleeping with a smile on their
Those smiles disappeared like darkness before the sun
when they saw Tatsie walking towards them the next morning. He was
healthy and happy without a scratch and said he was hungry from
fighting with the hyenas the night before. The other Bushmen couldn't
believe their eyes and got even more scared of him and the powerful
magic that he had. Tatsie was his mean old self and didn't seem to
remember anything that happened to him the night before. He kept on
scaring the children and abusing his powerful position to get
whatever he wanted. Because the Bushmen were so scared of his magic
they didn't even try and hide food from him and just smiled their
fake smiles when he walked into their huts and drank their water. Not
long after this the wise lady saw another chance to get rid of this
troublesome thick-skinned character.
The hunters shot a fat
Gemsbok (Kalahari Oryx) and again the wise lady put the heart and
liver of a tortoise into the best part of the meat. When the meat was
grilled to perfection Tatsie walked into the kraal and again without
asking cut the best piece for himself. As with the previous time he
started moving slower and slower and when he just stared into the
fire without eating, the wise woman got three of the hunters to shoot
their poison arrows into Tatsie's neck. When he fell over and died,
they took him down to the river and tied a big stone to his neck and
another to his ankles. They threw him into the deepest part of the
water. This way if he woke up again and started breathing he would be
under water and drown. Back in their kraal there was already dancing
and celebration because this time they were sure they would never see
The happy mood in the kraal stopped in mid
sentence when the children got to the river the next day. Out of the
water walked Tatsie alive and well! He had such a nice swim he said
and now he is feeling really hungry. He walked back to the kraal with
the children a distance behind him. The grown-ups were even more
surprised to see him and didn't budge when he ate all the “Bushmen
rice” and most of the left-over meat from the night before. Now
they were even more scared of him and all of them walked around with
those silly fake smiles pretending to like Tatsie. He didn't seem to
remember anything from the night before and for sure nobody was going
to tell him what happened. The wise old woman kept her secret and
patiently waited for another chance to kill this nightmare of a
When they shot another eland the wise woman knew
exactly what to do and asked all the hunters to make sure that they
put lots of poison on all their arrows. That night Tatsie pitched up
as usual and again ate some of the tortoise infested meat with the
same result as before. This time the wise lady asked the hunters to
shoot all their arrows into Tatsie and when he keeled over, looked
more like a porcupine than a Bushman. They dragged his body on top of
a little hill nearby, slit his throat and watched in silence while
his life blood drained out into the sand. A gust of wind came up
later and Tatsie's body got carried up into the hollow belly of the
sickle moon. There was a collective sigh of relief but nobody dared
to celebrate and couldn't sleep as they waited for the next morning.
All day they looked around in different directions waiting
for Tatsie to make another miraculous appearance but nothing
happened. Towards the evening there was a lot of excitement building
up and everybody was very happy that Tatsie stayed away. That night
there was plenty of dancing and celebration when they saw that Tatsie
was fighting with the other souls waiting on the moon. Every night
the stomach of the sickle moon grew bigger and bigger leaving less
space for the souls resting there. Every night they could see how
Tatsie started the shoving and pushing and always claimed the best
spot for himself. They saw the small children being pushed off first
and how they changed into swallows as they fell down to earth. One
night the other people ganged up against Tatsie and started pushing
him off the moon which was now in its first quarter. Tatsie fought
back as much as he could but he was outnumbered.
Kalahari the festivities had stopped because they were worried that
Tatsie might be back amongst them sooner than they thought. When
Tatsie was pushed off the edge of the moon he grabbed onto the tip of
the sickle moon in a desperate attempt to save himself. Unfortunately
for him the tip broke off and he tumbled to the ground, still holding
tightly onto the sharp part of the moon. Unaware of what was going on
in the night sky above him grandfather tortoise was snacking on some
sweet bushes at the edge of a pond. Tatsie fell with such force on
the tortoise that his shell cracked open and their two bodies merged
into one. Completely out of breath, lying in the shallow muddy water
was the first rhino with a sharp lip, similar to that of a tortoise.
Even today if you compare the hind legs of the tortoise and a rhino
you can see the remarkable similarity. On closer inspection one can
still see where they cut his throat the night he bled to death. Most
remarkable of all, Tatsie didn't let go of the tip of the moon and
that ended up as a single horn attached to his nose. These rhinos
also enjoy rolling in the mud to cool down their bodies and protect
themselves against parasites.
Note the similarity between the hind legs of the tortoise and that of the rhino.
Unfortunately his personality is still
the same, thick-skinned and foul tempered with a tendency to charge
at or break anything he doesn't like. The children are still scared
of him and the adults avoid him too. Lucky for them Tatsie became a
vegetarian after his big scare and the meat and “Bushmen rice”
can finally be savoured by the rightful owners. Listen to the Bushmen
next time you see a sharp lipped rhino and you will hear them say –
“Kyk daar gaan Tatsie!”
(These two images are borrowed from the internet until I can find some pictures to use.) Both show the sharp lip of the Black Rhino (which is a browser) and so similar to the beak of the tortoise. This is in contrast to the wide mouth of the White Rhino which grazes on grass mostly. These two should actually have been called "Sharp Rhino" and "Wide Rhino" if the lip was used to distinguish them. There is no difference in skin colour between the two species.
On there last night together there was very little time for story telling. The men were too busy sharing the ivory and skins and measuring out the biltong amongst everybody involved. Coenraad did however briefly explain the Bushmen concept of a higher power and that they believe in a trickster god that doesn't always favour the Bushmen. He told this little story to illustrate the nature of their god - Kaggen.
Four pictures by Clive Hol depicting the process of making fire.
You just have to look at the flames of
a fire to see why the Bushmen call him Dancer. The flames are
constantly dancing above the piece of wood or grass that is burning.
Fire is the son of Kaggen the mantis and is the husband of Plains. He
can often be seen burning the grass and trees that grow on Plains and
tries to keep her warm in winter. Their daughter Mirage also lives on
the plains with them. Dancer or Fire is warm and friendly as long as
we keep our distance, if you come to close it will burn you and if it
gets cross it will destroy everything in its way.
Just like his brother Wind, Fire can be
found everywhere and in everything, often you just can't see him. Hit
two stones together and sparks of fire might come out, if you rub to
sticks against each other long enough, it will warm up and start a
fire. Even from the sky on a hot cloudy day the fire of lightning
fall to the ground and at night some of the stars fall from the
heavens in a ball of fire. Dancer or Fire can also be found in all
people and animals and it helps to keep them warm and alive. One
can't see him but if he would leave your body, your flesh would go
cold and you will die. He can also be found in trees and grass
because when we put the wood or grass on a fire, you can see how it
burns as the fire comes out of it.
Fireman is still cross with the trees
for fighting with his family and for growing their roots deep into
his wife's body. Any chance that he gets he will burn the trees and
grass growing on the plains. Even some of the biggest trees will fall
pray to him because he will burn away at their trunks for days until
these giants topple over and die. Sometimes only the ghostly outline
of ash remains where once a giant tree was lying.
Friction generates heat.
Once upon a time their was great
abundance of food in the veld and huge herds of game were grazing
everywhere. It was a time of celebration and plenty and the Bushmen
were eating and dancing to their hearts delight. They came from all
over the land and the dancing carried on until deep into the night.
Dancer as one of the old generation Bushmen was also there and took
part in the celebrations but because he didn't show his warmth and
firery side, people didn't recognise him as Fireman. One night he was
in a very good mood after a scrumptious meal and some fun-filled
(“uitbundige”) dancing. He called everybody together and showed
them how to make a fire.
He took a tinder dry soft piece of wood
and cut a little hole into it. With his knife he scraped pieces from
the dry wood as fine as sawdust. He laid the piece of wood flat on
the ground and poured some of this sawdust into and around the hole.
Next he rubbed some grass and leaves between his hands until it
looked like wool and stacked it around the hole in the wood. Then
followed an assortment of fine twigs and grasses getting bigger and
thicker as he went about the preparation. Everyone looked on in
anticipation and with great excitement, up to that time they knew
about fire but nobody knew how to make it from scratch.
Finally he took a straight and much
harder twig, about the thickness of your tiny finger, put it upright
with the one end in the hole and rubbed the other end quickly between
his two flat hands. Turning in the hole like that warmed up the wood
and after a while a thin wisp of smoke started coming from the hole.
Everybody went quiet and the anticipation hung thick over them.
Dancer lightly started blowing on the smoking sawdust and it was
glowing red in their shadowy world. When he put some of the fine
woolly grasses on, it was only a few seconds and the first tiny flame
burst into life. With it the crowed burst into laughter and cheered
it on in amazement. Like a baby taking its first tentative steps the
flame was eating into the grass, Dancer carefully stacked fine twigs
around it and soon it was dining on more solid foods. On top of this
came thicker twigs then logs and in no time a giant fire was burning
high and warming everyone around it.
The first flame.
Oxygen and heat builds the fire.
The Bushmen were amazed and struggled
to tear their eyes away from the flames that were dancing above the
logs. Dancer the Fireman took a stick and drew a circle around the
fire. “Bring the meat and put it inside this circle” - he
requested. Soon the meat started cooking from the heat and the
Bushmen enjoyed their first “braai”. They found the taste of the
barbecued meat much better and from that day they learned to cook
their food. Before that everyone ate their meat raw like the lion and
the hyena because after all, they are also Bushmen from the old
Outside this “braai ring”, Dancer
drew a second circle almost at the edge of the light and explained
that it was for dancing and celebration and that people should not
come inside the “braai ring” because they could be burned by the
flames. Between these two rings is where the Bushmen could dance,
sing and make music and that they did for hours on end. The men would
dace and kick up their feet in a cloud of dust, they would make all
sorts of faces and funny impersonations to impress the women. The
women sat just inside the outer circle and would clap their hands and
laugh at the men's antics. The children brought water because singing
and dancing was thirsty work, especially in a cloud of dust like
In the light of the fire the men could
see the faces of the women so much better and realized how beautiful
they were, they danced and winked at their wives to entertain them.
This style of dance where the men nod at a women and make faces at
her while dancing around the fire, became known as the “Nu-dance”.
The women admired the strong agile bodies of the hunters and cheered
them on by singing and clapping their hands. It became a time of
great happiness and celebration and carried on until all the meat was
A family would keep that fire going all
year long, even when they travelled they would carry coals with them
to start a fire at their new camp. They used the coals from leadwood
that lasted a long time and could be restarted with some kindling
whenever they needed a fire. After one year this fire will be allowed
to burn itself out and one of the elders will follow the ceremony
that Dancer the Fireman showed them to restart a fresh fire. This new
birth signals the beginning of the festival and all Bushmen will
again eat and dance to their hearts delight. This festival to
celebrate the abundance of game and food and the lighting of the new
fire become known as the “Nu-festival”.
Hunters by National Geographic
True soul-mates are not that easily separated because
the golden thread that connect them can stretch across oceans and
beyond the highest mountains. He could not openly see her or even
risk writing to her but Coenraad used one of the most uncanny
abilities of the indigenous peoples – to accurately convey a
message from one person to another. He would ask a heard-boy to pass
a message to Elizabeth and they would accurately pass the message
from one to the next until a few days later she would receive the
message. These are depictions of some of the messages that could have
been sent to Elizabeth. Many of them are in the form of stories that
makes it easier to remember. Stories that he listened to as a
youngster living amongst the Bushmen. Others were accounts of
visualizations that embodied some of the emotional issues that he had
to deal with in his everyday life. Some were completely unusual
almost like they were deliberately sent from centuries ago and held
clues of untold riches and traders from exotic lands.
If you like these kind of stories and would like to stay up to date with developments, please sign our Visitors Book. Thank you very much for your interest.