The Life of a South African Tribe


In the year 1895, I had the great pleasure of receiving a visit from Lord Bryce in Lourenço Marques where I was staying at the head of the Swiss Romande Mission. This distinguished statesman, in the course of his travels through South Africa, had devoted considerable attention to the Native tribes throughout the country, endeavouring to understand them and to foresee their future. He had soon noticed however how scant is our knowledge about them, and was trying to stimulate men on the spot to undertake a scientific study of their primitive life. In the course of our conversation, I was struck by the following remark which he made to me: "How thankful should we be, we men of the XIXth century, if a Roman had taken the trouble fully to investigate the habits of our Celtic forefathers! This work has not been done, and we shall always remain ignorant of things which would have interested us so much!"

This observation was quite a revelation to me. It was possible then, that these Natives, for whose sake we went to Africa, would themselves benefit by such a study, and that, in the course of time, they would be grateful to know what they had been, when they were still leading their savage life... This argument, in addition to so many others, had never occurred to me. Up to that date I had already collected some Ronga tales and studied some curious customs of the tribe. But the science which I was pursuing as a favourite pastime was Entomology. Delagoa Bay is a splendid place for beetles and butterflies. I had come across a wonderful forest near Morakwen where I had been fortunate enough to discover a new kind of Papilio! Since that time Ethnography has more or less supplanted Entomology. I started on the systematic and thorough investigation which Lord Bryce recommended to me, and I very soon found out that, after all, Man is infinitely more interesting than the insect! The material which I gathered amongst . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New Hyde Park, NY
Publication year:
  • 1962


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