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healthy elevated plateau—the great watershed of the Transvaal—is called ; but where it declined into the lower country, north and east, suitable locations, abounding in grass, water, and warm-looking bush, were discovered. The people, therefore, marched on to the lower levels, leaving unoccupied behind them vast tracts of country, which, after remaining for years the abode of countless thousands of game, are now being more and more closely settled and built upon by the farmers, who have found that at first they had neglected the very best part of their country, and occupied only the unhealthy and less profitable places. This is the real cause of that abandonment of certain fever districts to which Sir Theophilus Shepstone alludes, and of which he makes such forcible use in his annexation proclamation when he says: “After more or less of irritating contact with aboriginal tribes to the north, there commenced, about the year 1867, gradual abandonment to the natives in that direction of territory settled by burghers of this state, in well-built towns and farms, and on granted farms; ” and “that this was succeeded by the extinction of effective rule over extensive tracts of country included within the boundaries of this state, and, as a consequence, by the practical independence, which still continues, of large native tribes residing therein who had until then considered themselves subjects.” That a recession of white people from points long previously occupied has occurred I do not seek to deny, but that such was a sign of weakness in the Republic no one who knows the country thoroughly will feel inclined to admit. The Gold Fields have been, since the British annexation, practically abandoned, yet no one would venture to blame the Government of Sir Theophilus Shepstone for the existence of the state of things that led to this movement. The Origstadt valley, with its pretty town, was deserted because, and only because, of its fatal fevers; and the wheat-growing farms of the northern portions of Lydenberg district have been allowed to fall out of cultivation simply because wheat did not pay-a sufficient reason to a man of ordinary common-sense who is not forced to
“Voorlooper,” which is applied variously to any advanced settler—to the star that heralds the morning star, &c.
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strengthen an argument by alleging false motives for acts in themselves easily explained. Sheep on the Highveld pay better, and with less labour and risk, than corn does in the bush country. Besides this, Origstadt and the wheat districts are unhealthy for horses; and all other things being equal, a farmer will prefer to live where he can ride to where he must walk. Wheat, when grown, had to be brought down by waggon to Natal—a distance of 400 miles—to find a market. This became a yearly labour. Such absences from the family were not patiently borne by farmers; so, naturally, when they discovered the value of the plateau as a sheep country, they fell back on it. Besides this, it is notorious that wherever wool is produced, stores soon spring up to buy the farmer's produce at his own door, and thus save him the yearly journey to far-away Natal. Schoemansdal, in Zoutpansberg, was abandoned for not altogether dissimilar reasons. In the early days traders went there attracted by the vast quantities of ivory, feathers, and interior produce, then obtainable at low prices, in exchange for goods. Then was brought to market by the natives, ivory and other treasures, the accumulations of years; fortunes were made, and great things planned. In due time this excessive supply fell off, and only what was bartered for and shot in each season came to hand. Even this yearly supply became scantier as the game got driven further and further back, until, finally, the cost of bringing goods so vast a journey, and of living, was not equalled by the value of the ivory and interior produce got in, and the place collapsed. Fever played its part in thinning out the inhabitants; and no doubt Kafir neighbours were troublesome at times; but if “it had paid” on the old scale, Schoemansdal would not have failed to retain a population. Like the Gold Fields under our new Government, Zoutpansberg was deserted because it was not what the slang of the present day calls “good enough.” Still, with all this abandonment of non-paying and fever-stricken localities, the Boers occupy an extensive country: and on its surface they have wrought improvements, which, compared with their numbers, are sufficiently astonishing. There are roads—and very good roads—everywhere. There are churches, courts, and jails in sufficient number; and when one considers that in consequence of their distance from the coast, they had for years no local markets for their superfluous productions, but had to consume all they grew, the extent of ground under cultivation is very great. There are, roughly speaking, in the Transvaal about 7000 families living by farm-work of one sort or another; and they have all houses, habitable, and, under the circumstances of the country, fairly comfortable. It would appear to an impartial investigator to be little less than miraculous how a people, fresh from their wanderings, had succeeded, in so few years, not only in planting the features of a successful civilisation over 130,000 square miles of country, but in wringing from the land of their adoption the wherewithal to pay for the clothes, arms, and imported articles consumed by them during their periods of “trek” and settlement, as well as for the materials and utensils of comfort and necessity which they have gathered round them or used for the ornamentation of their houses. The Boers are really a peasantry—the largest land-owning peasants and peasant proprietors in the world—but they are nothing more. Hence the feeling of disappointment with which some visitors—casual observers—view their present condition. Men cannot conceive how the proprietors of vast lands and owners of flocks and herds have advanced so little in the acquisition of the comforts and luxuries of European civilisation. They look for farmers where they should expect only to find wealthy peasants; and as they see no evidences around them of the wanderings, fights, fevers, agonies of long travel and suffering through which these poor people have passed, they are but too ready to accuse them of unprogressiveness and want of enterprise, where really the enterprise has been exceptionally great, and the progress remarkable, under the circumstances. The character of the Boers, as well as their habits and customs, are strongly impressed by their wanderings and sufferings. If one of the family is about to ride but a few miles beyond his own extensive holding, before leaving his house he respectfully bids farewell to his father and friends with almost as much ceremony as a European would use before undertaking a journey
DOMESTIC HABITS. 17
of weeks' duration. In the same way persons, whether they be visitors, strangers, neighbours, or kinsmen, coming to a homestead, greet each of the family on their first entrance under its roof, and are in turn shaken hands with by each and every member of the household. This custom arose from the meetings and the partings of forty-four years, during which those who met, met as persons delivered from great dangers; and those who parted, parted as do those who may meet no more. The Boers had few candles in the wilderness during their long and weary pilgrimage. A little coarse fat from slaughtered animals, with a bit of rag, made their only lamp) They consequently acquired habits of retiring early to rest,-the daylight throughout its entire length being utilised for their labours. This habit, with the necessity for early rising incumbent on herdsmen, has clung to them; and it is but rarely you meet with a family that enjoys those pleasant evening hours so dear to Europeans, when, amidst comfortable lights and fires, the labours of the day being at an end, the household devotes itself to the innocent pleasures of social and domestic intercourse. With the Boer, the sun being set, and the cattle and stock impounded in their kraals and places of safety, the short twilight is almost immediately followed by a dinner and supper, all in one—the meal of the day. The table is no sooner cleared than the family assembles, as it had done for years in the desert, for united prayer. This duty accomplished, they separate at once to their various quarters. People complain much of the Boers' houses, saying they are untidy, unfloored, and insufficiently lighted. It should be remembered, on the other hand, that the house is almost always the work of the owner's own hands. It has been put up under difficulties of a most exceptional nature, in a country but yesterday rescued from wild beasts and still wilder barbarians. Whether it be beside some beautiful stream, or standing upon a naked and desolate flat, or buried under steep hillsides in some lonely or almost inaccessible mountain kloof, it has been constructed without the assistance of skilled labour, and from rough materials found upon or near to its site. Beams do not grow in every direction ready cut and dressed to the builder's hand. Those B
that the Boers have used have been procured at a cost of much labour and expense from very considerable distances. The difficulty in obtaining heavy timber has exercised an influence even over the shape of the farmers' houses, which cannot afford the luxuries of immense rooms and spreading roofs. In the same way window-frames, and glass to fill them, were for years almost entirely unobtainable by the settlers north of the Orange and Waal rivers. Therefore the windows are in many houses small and few in number, resembling, more often than otherwise, shot-holes. If one also considers that in a majority of instances, boards suitable for flooring, after being purchased far away in Natal or the Cape Colony, had then to be conveyed by waggons, at an immense expenditure of valuable time and labour, to the Boer's place, the poor people who have settled down and built their houses in a new land, within the last few years, may well be excused the heinous crime of living upon earthen floors hardened with ant-heaps. Everything that the Boer required of comfort or luxury had to be brought from a distance. Even now, most of the commodities consumed by him are imported, reaching his hands only through Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, or Port Natal, loaded with heavy duties and middleman's profits. Yet, with all these difficulties, observant persons can always see signs not only of progress, but of an active, living, and quick improvement amongst even the rudest of these unfortunate but brave and enterprising people. I have noted with satisfaction, on nearly every farm I have visited, that new and improved buildings follow rapidly on the completion of the first. Everywhere one may observe that older houses are being used as waggon-shelters, coach-houses, and tool-rooms; whilst the families, and especially the more recently married members, live in buildings of later date, much more carefully constructed and incomparably better furnished than the first had been. Frequently these improvements have followed so rapidly upon each other, that upon one farm may be seen five, six, and even seven dwelling-houses; while yet another is in course of construction for the occupation of some would-be “Benedict.” Quite apart from the influences of the various South African