Mafeking, January 10th, 1900.
During the time which has elapsed since Christmas an interesting event has been the deposition of Wessels, the chief of the Baralongs. At a kotla of the tribe, to which the councillors and petty chiefs were bidden by the Civil Commissioner, Mr. Bell notified the tribe of his decision. The deposed chief, a man of no parts whatever, but one who unfortunately reveals all the vices of civilisation, has been put upon sick-leave, the reins of government being placed in the hands of his two chief councillors. Wessels had been instigating his tribe to refuse to work for the military authorities here, and through his instrumentality it has become difficult to obtain native labour and native runners. He told them in his amiable fashion that the English wished to make slaves of them, and that they would not be paid for any services which they rendered; nor would they, added he, taking advantage of an unfortunate turn in the situation, be given any food, but left to starve when the critical moment came. With the change which had been adopted and which has been given the sanction of the kotla, it is hoped that matters may progress more smoothly and the tribe itself increase in prosperity. It was an interesting meeting, and one which recalled the early days of Africa, when the authority of the great White Queen was not a power paramount in the council chambers of the tribes. Wessels, unwilling and assuming an air of injured dignity, filled his place in the kotla for the last time; around him there were the chiefs of the tribe, his blood relatives, and his councillors. Their attire was a weird mixture of effete savagery and of the civilisation of the sort which is picked up from living in touch with white Africa and missionary societies. Many black legs were clothed in trousers, many black shoulders wore coats. Here and there, as relics of the past, there was the ostrich feather in the hat, the fly whisk, composed of the hairs from the tail of an animal, the iron or bone skin-scraper with which to remove the perspiration of the body. A few wore shoes upon naked feet, a few others sported watch-chains and spoke English. At the back of the enclosure there was a native guard who shouldered Martini-Henri rifles, elephant guns, Sniders, or sporting rifles. A few of these were garmented with skins of animals upon the naked body. After a stately and not altogether friendly greeting to the man who had ordered the assembly to meet, the reasons which had brought about the contemplated change in the head of the tribe were stated in English and then translated by the interpreter. The old chief snorted with disgust and endeavoured to coerce his people to reject the demands made upon them. But they had been made before a body of men who were capable of realising the worthlessness of their chief, and who, under the protection of the Imperial delegate, did not mind endorsing the suggestions and expressing their opinions. The younger and more turbulent, who recognised, in the failings of the chief, follies dear to their own hearts, were inclined to express sympathy for the man who was so soon to be compelled to relinquish the sweets of office. They spoke at once in an angry chatter and confused chortle of sounds, which, if eloquent, were wholly insufficient. The chief then threw himself back upon his chair, spat somewhat contemptuously, and finally acquiesced in the decision, obtaining some small consolation from the fact that his official allowance would not be discontinued. Then the kotla ended, and the indunas rose up and left, standing together in animated groups around the palisades, for the discussion of the scene in which they had just taken part. Then, as the decision spread throughout the tribe, children and women, young and old, banded together to watch these final indabas.
The scene had been solemn enough beneath the kotla tree, but outside the natural instinct of these children of the veldt soon asserted itself, and they began to dance. They formed into small groups of about forty, to the sound of hand-clapping, a not unmusical intoning, and much jumping and stamping of feet. It would seem that they were dancing an old war-dance which had degenerated into one symbolical of love and happiness. Around the joyous groups the old crones circulated, clapping their withered hands, shrieking delight in cracked voices, and generally encouraging the festivity. The dance was curious, and appeared to catch echoes of many lands. There was the diffident maiden, anxious to be loved, but bashful, modest in her manner and in her gestures, until she saw the man that could thrill her; then she glowed, and her steps were animated, buoyant, and caressing. A smile irradiated her face, while a slight, almost imperceptible, movement pulsed through her body. Behind her were her companions, the same age as herself, who imitated her with feverish sympathy, instinctively reproducing her moods of body and of mind. The vibration that stole through the bodies of the dancers increased gradually until, from statues with wicked eyes, full of sensuous expression and amorous allurement, they wavered like thin flames of love in a gust of passion. As the potency of their feelings grew steadily stronger, they swayed in languorous movements, throwing out sinuous arms, their feeble faces smiling, their graceful bodies bending in eager attitudes of expectation. The air became heavy with noise, thick with a veritable tumult, as the dancers jumped more wildly; now they threw themselves into postures in the circle, shifting rapidly with tiny screams of delight and a gliding, clinging motion of their arms and legs as though, coy and eager, they would escape the cherished caresses of their lovers. As they glided, their actions seemed always to be marked with the same regularity, with the same regard to rhythm, and with an innate conception of grace. When they shook their bodies it was with an abandonment that was, at least, graceful; if they stood, rocking in a sea of easy emotion, as though victorious, they would hug their capture with an air of conquest which was delightful to behold. As they rose to the pinnacle of their happiness, when their countenances were suffused with love and tenderness, they infused into their emotions an appearance of sadness. It was as though a cloud had suddenly fallen upon them, revealing to them that their endearments had been abortive, that their ambitions were not to be realised and that they themselves had been flouted. Then there stole upon them the incarnation of sorrow, in which, finding themselves alone, uncared for, unconsidered, they resolved, in a burst of artificial tears, to have done with giddiness, and to take up with the delights of placid domesticity. Then the dance terminated, she, who had by her graceful contortions and sympathetic bearing moved her audience to laughter and tears first, being considered the victorious. Thus did these simple natives celebrate the new era.
If dancing be one form of amusement here, the siege has also brought the means and opportunity of indulging in a pastime of quite a different character. If sniping be the rule by day, cattle raiding by night gives to the natives some profitable employment. During last night the Baralongs secured, by a successful raid, some twenty-four head of cattle, and in the course of last week another raiding detachment looted some eighteen oxen. The native enjoys himself when he is able to participate in some cattle-raiding excursion to the enemy's lines, and, although the local tribe may not have proved of much value as a unit of defence, their success at lifting the Boer cattle confers upon them a unique value in the garrison. We were deploring the poorness of the cattle which remained at our disposal only a few days ago, but the rich capture which these natives have made has given us a welcome change from bone and skin to juicy beef. These night excursions are eagerly anticipated by the tribe, and almost daily is the consent of the Colonel sought in relation to such an object. During the day the natives who have been authorised by Colonel Baden-Powell to take part in the raid approach as near to the grazing cattle as discretion permits, marking down when twilight appears the position of those beasts that can be most readily detached from the mob. Then, when darkness is complete, they creep up, divested of their clothes, crawling upon hands and knees, until they have completely surrounded their prey. Then quietly, and as rapidly as circumstances will allow them, each man "gets a move on" his particular beast, so that in a very short space of time some ten or twenty cattle are unconsciously leaving the main herd. When the raiders have drawn out of earshot of the Boer lines they urge on their captures, running behind them and on either side of them, but without making any noise whatsoever. As they reach their stadt, their approach having been watched by detached bodies of natives, who, lying concealed in the veldt, had taken up positions by which to secure the safe return of their friends, the tribes go forth to welcome them, and when the prizes have been inspected and report duly made to Headquarters they celebrate the event with no little feasting and dancing. Upon the following day merriment reigns supreme, and for the time the siege is forgotten.