Those who know anything of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 are aware that the king of that martial nation was Cetywayo. The Zulu people had been crafted into a formidable military society by Shaka Zulu where all were ordered into regiments. It was trained efficiently and practiced war with ruthless efficiency against both other southern African tribes and European settlers alike. By the time of the conflict which would bring the Zulus to ruin, Cetewayo was but the latest in a line of its warrior kings. The author of this book—which is principally comprised of letters published after her death—lived and worked in Zululand as a missionary during this dramatic period in its history. Annie Wilkinson’s letters graphically illustrate the hardships of life on the South African veldt as it was experienced by Europeans during the 19th century and give a different perspective on the coming of war to the border.
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Reference is made in the letter which concludes the last chapter to the custom existing in Zululand of ‘smelling out’ people supposed to have been guilty of witchcraft and destroying them, their cattle becoming the king’s property. This was the case to a terrible extent during the prevalence of the lung-sickness amongst the cattle in Zululand.<br>
There lived near our station a very good heathen family whose hearts were with us; they were constantly at church on Sundays, and frequently in our station on week days amongst us, or our native Christians. There were several fine, handsome young fellows in this family; one, a great friend of ours, some six feet two inches in height, a good shot who often went out hunting for us. It came to the ears of their chief that they were Christians at heart, and intended coming over to us. This made their chief jealous. He was a bad man, and immediately set on foot a witchdoctor to smell them out, and accuse them of having caused lung-sickness amongst his cattle.<br>
This is never a difficult matter where a chief has large bribes to offer the witchdoctor. The incantations went forward, and this family was taken as having bewitched the cattle. It was reported to Cetywayo, who ordered the destruction of the family. Our young hunter came to me and told me what was about to happen—that an ‘impi’ (a band of spearmen) had been sent out from the king to destroy his family. I told him to watch keenly for tidings of their approach, and apprise his family in time to escape. I gave him a long, thick serge shirt to watch in, for he had to sit about upon the hills all night, as it is in the early morning that the Zulus make their attack upon any devoted village. The captain of the ‘impi’ tells off his men, and each man stands by the little hole which forms the entrance of the hut, spear in hand. As the inhabitants come creeping out down goes the spear into them, as a seal hunter standing over the seal holes of the Polar seas plunges his spear into the seal as it comes up to blow. Notice was given in time to the family in question, and they fled, taking refuge in the surrounding villages, and hiding there.<br>
This was reported to Cetywayo, and he issued fresh orders to the effect that any village found harbouring any member of this family should also be destroyed. For several days the work of destruction went on, and, as is usual in such cases, those who escaped with their lives, or wounded, having lost relations and perhaps their all in this world, fled to us and sought the protection of the English upon the Mission station. We are able to show kindness to these poor people when in such sore distresses, and we not infrequently find that they have no wish to return after a while to their old heathen life, but ask to be allowed to stay on the station and be prepared for baptism.<br>
On this particular occasion I had to go out to the ‘impi’ early one morning as they came up from a stream below a kraal, to separate, and to liberate some of our Christians’ cattle from those confiscated. They had been washing the blood from their spears. Such a sight I never saw before, and never wish to see again. They looked like an army of devils. I should have known some of them at any other time, but now they had worked themselves up into such a state of frenzy, to do those deeds of blood, that the form of their countenances was altogether changed. Fathers are sent to kill sons, sons their fathers, brothers their brothers and sisters, and so forth, for, says Cetywayo, ‘it makes the heart of my people stout for the day of battle.’ These slaughters, terrible as they are, not unfrequently turn to the Church’s profit. The Mission stations gain new converts, and so ‘the fierceness of man turns to God’s praise.’