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Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall
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EARLY DAYS

[245] LONG, long ago the Portuguese, you remember, were the great seafaring people of Europe. In those old days when America, Australia, and New Zealand were yet unknown, when no one guessed the vast extent of Africa, these fearless sailors swept the seas in their tiny vessels seeking new paths to India. And it was a Portuguese, Bartholomew Diaz, who, seeking to reach India, discovered the Cape of Storms—the Cape of Good Hope.

As on that eventful voyage he sailed southward and ever southward, he came to anchor in a bay which he called Angra Pequena or the Little Bay. He went ashore there hoping to find fresh food and water for his sick sailors. Thus he and his men were, so far as we know, the first Christian men who trod the shores of Africa, south of the equator. In memory of this landing, and to claim the land for his master, the King of Portugal, Diaz set up a marble cross, and carved some words upon it. This was in 1486, and for nearly four hundred years that marble cross stood as a remembrance of the brave old Portuguese seaman who had set it there. For nearly four hundred years it was swept by storms of wind and wave, was rained and sunned upon. The carving upon it could no longer be read, but still it [246] stood a silent witness of days gone by. At length some one in folly and idleness cast it to the ground. There it lay neglected in the sand, until it was carried away to Lisbon, where it may now be seen in the museum, a treasured memory of the past.

If you will look on the map you will find Angra Pequena marked. It is now in German South-West Africa. But when Diaz and his men landed it was a barren and cheerless waste of sand, where they found little to eat except sea-birds' eggs. So, from Angra Pequena, Diaz sailed on again, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and sailed as far as the great Fish River before returning with his news to Portugal.

The discovery of the Cape was, we may say, a mere accident. The Portuguese sailors had set forth, not to discover new lands, but a new way to India, and for a long time little use was made of it.

When, ten years after Diaz had made his discovery, Vasco da Gama set forth, he, too, landed on the southern African coast, not with any idea of settling there, but merely to find water and fresh food. It was he who, sailing along the shores on Christmas day, caught sight of the beautiful coasts which he named Natal, that is, the Land of the Birth, so that men might remember that it was first seen upon that Holy Day. And by that name we call it still.

Many years passed and the Portuguese trade with India grew great. Then, as you know, other peoples besides the Portuguese sought the way to India. Holland became the mistress of the seas until Britain swept her too from the path. So year by year more and more ships rounded the stormy Cape. "We ran aboard the Cape," writes Francis Drake, that old sea dog of Queen Elizabeth's time. "We found the report of the Portu- [247] guese to be most false. They affirm that it is the most dangerous cape in the world, never without intolerable storms and present dangers to travellers who come near the same. This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest cape we have seen in the whole circumference of the earth."

But although the Cape was calm when Sir Francis Drake passed it, it was not always so, and a Portuguese captain was heard mournfully to wonder "why God the Lord caused them, who were good Christians and Catholics with large and strong ships, always to pass the Cape with such great and violent tempest and damage; while the English, who were heretics and blasphemers, passed it so easily with weak and small vessels."

To all these ancient seamen—Portuguese, Dutch, and British—the great continent was useful only as a resting-place. Like weary land birds which, flying southward, light upon a passing vessel to rest their wings, so the seamen of long ago touched upon the shores of Africa for refreshment on the long voyage to India. Sometimes these adventurers saw the natives, and bartered with them for cattle. Generally the trade was peacefully done. But sometimes quarrels and misunderstandings would arise, and blood was shed.

These natives were very wild and ignorant, and were divided into three quite different races—the Bushmen, the Hottentots, and the Bantu.

The Bushmen were the most ignorant, although it is thought that they were the oldest of the three races. They were of a yellowish brown colour, and very small. But although they were small, they were very wiry and could run with wonderful speed. They lived in caves and holes in the ground, wore no clothes, and had no [248] possessions at all. They roamed about hunting the wild animals with which Africa swarmed, living on them and on wild plants.

The Hottentots lived along the shores and were like the Bushmen in colour, but they were bigger and were not quite so ignorant. They built huts of woven branches and leaves, and they had herds of tame cattle and sheep. They also knew how to make use of iron and copper.

The Bantu lived north of the Bushmen, and were the most civilised of the three races. We generally speak of them now as Kaffirs, although Kaffir is not their real name. It was a kind of nickname given to them long ago by Arabian traders, and means "unbeliever," These Kaffirs are again divided into tribes, such as Zulus, Matabele, Bechuanas, Basutos, and many others.

The Bantu were big men of a dark brown colour; they built neat round houses and thatched them cleverly. Their villages were generally built in a circle with room for their cattle and sheep in the centre, and were called kraals. This word was taken from the Portuguese word for a cattle pen, "curral." Now a South African cattle pen is also called a kraal.

Besides having large flocks and herds, dogs and poultry, the Bantu tilled the ground and grew crops of millet, or what is now called Kaffir-corn. From this Kaffir-corn they made bread. They could also smelt iron and make pots of clay, and both men and women wore ornaments of copper. Otherwise they went almost naked, tattooing their bodies in strange patterns, "They cover themselves with the apparell that Adam did weare in Paradice," says an old writer, "so that [249] when they see any white people that weare apparell on their bodies they laugh and moke at them as mobsters and ugly people."

All these three races spoke different languages, they hated each other and were constantly at war, and some of them, it was said, were cannibals.


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