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James Ndata of Kama's Native Levy 1 month 1 day ago #71279

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James Ndata

Private, Kama’s Native Levy - 9th Frontier war

- South African General Service Medal with 1877-8 clasp to Pte. J. Ndata, Kama’s Native Levy

James Ndata is one of the few black men who served in the Frontier Wars whom I have been able to track down any details on. There is normally always a paucity of information on indigenous men in Victorian times, this as a result of poor to non-existent record keeping, along with the fact that, in most cases, these men and their people were not yet members of any Christian sect or denomination and had not the benefit of a kindly minister of the church to record their existence.

James was part of a Xhosa tribe under the chieftainship of a Christian convert, one William Kama. This tribe, known as Kama’s people, lived in an area on the outskirts of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and were, apart from being British subjects by virtue of their physical address, loyal to the Empire as well.

What little we know about the role they played in the conflict of 1877-8 can be ascribed to the writings of a missionary who spent many years among them and who was an ardent champion of their cause. W. Clifford Holden, in his book “British Rule in South Africa – Kama and his Tribe” published in July 1879, provided a glimpse into the lives of the tribe and its members at the time of the war referred to. He wrote as follows:

The war in Gcelakaland began in the early part of 1878. The seat of the war when commenced was 150 miles distant from Kama’s country, being on the north east of the Kei River. There had been for some time increasing unrest between the Gcelekas and the Fingoes, who lived along their border, until it broke out in open war, being brought to a climax in connection with a beer-drinking fray. The English government took the part of the Fingoes, and here open war commenced; some severe fighting followed, in which the colonial forces, assisted by Imperial troops, were mostly victorious.

When the Gcelekas were thus hard pressed, they began to travel westward across the Kei, and as the Ghikas under Sandili occupied the country along the western side of the river, the Gcelakas in considerable numbers, under petty chiefs, found their way among them, and fanned the war spirit of the younger portion of the tribe, until at length Khili and his people rose in rebellion, as they were British subjects, residing in the colony at the time.

By degrees these came farther westward, by way of Keiskama Hoek, and were joined by many of their nation from different parts of the colony. The point at which they made their final stand was at the Perie Mountains, as before stated, bordering on Kama’s country. Then it was that Kama’s trouble began in real earnest, most of the Kaffirs around him, and many beyond him, going into the contest with their might. That course of intense trial, which the following records will detail, now commenced.

When Kama and his people were brought into sore extremities, he related some of these to a friend in presence of a number of credible witnesses. Shortly after a paragraph appeared in one of the local papers giving a statement of some of these pressing hardships. Attention was called to this paragraph in parliament, but the reply given was by no means satisfactory. After this, official investigation was made; but instead of Kama’s statements being disproved, they had this additional grave fact established; viz., that when Kama was going into King William’s Town he was met by a number of volunteers, who enquired who he was, and on being told he was Kama, they pointed their guns at him, and threatened to shoot him. The following statement of the case of Kama and his people appeared in the Grahamstown Journal of 14 June, from a party on the spot, who knew well the circumstances of the affair:

‘Now that the war must be considered virtually at an end, at least so far as open rebellion is concerned, and there being no probability of any other tribes within the colonial boundary ‘rising,’ it may perhaps be useful if we give a short account of the position occupied by Kama and his tribe, both before and during the rebellion.

It is scarcely necessary for us to remind our readers that this tribe has always been loyal and faithful to the British Government, and it was on this account that the government gave them the country they now occupy, and secured it to them by special title.

Since the year 1856 and the famine which followed owing to the cattle killing, numbers of Ghikas and refugees from other tribes have been allowed to settle in Kama’s country. This was a mistake – when the present war broke out, many of these men returned to their chiefs and came out against the British forces. Kama and his people were anxious to show their loyalty by fighting on the side of the government, as in previous wars have been grieved that they were not allowed to do so. It may here be mentioned that in January last, about the time of the Ghika outbreak, Kama received information from one of his people that Edmund Sandilli had been attending midnight meetings in the Perie, and was preparing to join his father, etc. which information was at once conveyed to the government by special magistrate, but it was said there was not sufficient evidence upon which to apprehend him. Two or three weeks passed, and Edmund Sandilli was in arms against the government.

When the chief received information that the kaffirs under Seyolo and Delima were passing through his country, he started off to try and intercept them, but unfortunately, the rebels crossed higher up than it was thought they would, and when Kama and his men were on the point of making their way to Fort White to assist the troops there, a message was sent to them, at the request of the officer in command of the imperial troops at Fort White, that they had better go home again, as he could manage without their assistance.

A few days after this information was again received that the rebels were still in the bush in the lower end of the country, and it was at once arranged between the magistrate and Kama that he should place 300 hundred men in the field, and try to scour the bush. The men were soon got together and an English commander was placed over them by the magistrate; but before they could reach the bush a special messenger was sent after them to say they were to return, as word had been received from King William’s Town that the government did not require their services, and they were to be disbanded.

Not many days after this Kama casually met with General Thesiger, who asked him why he did not come to the assistance of government. Whereupon Kama replied that he was ready and anxious to do so, but that his services had been declined, and then related all that had taken place. The general then told Kama that he would see that 300 or 400 hundred of his men were called out. Kama’s reply was that he would be happy to obey any instructions which might be given him by his magistrate. The men have never been called for. Many times the chief of this tribe has been blamed for allowing rebels to pass through his country; but how could he prevent it when not allowed to have an armed force with which to patrol his own country? He was informed that government only wanted the assistance of his eyes and ears; all he was to do was to report matters to the magistrate.’

Mr. Holden was clearly biased towards who he perceived to be “his people” – he was also factually incorrect as we know that Kama and 112 of his tribe came out on the side of the British against the marauding tribes that were crisscrossing his land. They were commanded by a Colonial Officer, Captain W.H. Attwell and, in what must rate as a first for the times, the Kama Chief, William Shaw Kama, was a Lieutenant in the Native Levy raised in his name. of the 113 medals issued off the medal roll 41 were returned to the Mint, leaving 72 in the hands of the recipients.

James Ndata was one of those who proudly claimed his medal. Of full age and described as a Labourer by trade from Emkumbu, he had wed Eliza Ntanta in the Wesleyan Chapel at Perksdale in the King William’s Town district on 12 July 1877. At more or less the time the “troubles” started. Both he and his wife were able to sign their names in the register – a testimony to the education that the missionaries had provided.








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James Ndata of Kama's Native Levy 1 month 14 hours ago #71299

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Is there any other information on this unit.
My GG Grandfather was Henry Mark Lowe, Lieutenant of the Fort White Mounted Volunteers and a Trader at Iquibica, where the Kama people were settled.
Any information would be appreciated.

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