Meat and Groundnuts in Ancient Africa: Extracts from Old Manuscripts and Early Writings

Meat and Groundnuts in Ancient Africa
4 June 2023
Collected by Eben van Tonder
Extracts from old writings and African traditions related to meat, nuts and food.

A. From Frobenius, Leo. (Originally published: 1913)The Voice of Africa, Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912

The Emperor comes. (Photograph by Leo Frobenius.)

– The following story is told about Djibirri, Owdoo Kaderre and the Comet

“Djiberri, the Alledjenu of God (Houssa-Kano). Every Alledjenu and every human has his star in the heavens. When he dies, the ownership of the star passes to some other person. But the star of a very great King is said to fall down at his death.”

“Owdoo Kaderr(e) (God) has also a star, which is Tarauri-gam-Saki, or also Tarauri Gabas (the Star of the East), namely, the Morning Star.”

Djiberri, the God (equals Gabrielu, the archangel Gabriel, who here also becomes an Alledjenu), came to Owdoo Kaderr(e) and spake thus: “ Give me that star yonder, Tarauri-me-wutsia-sun (wutsia = tail; fudu=four). This means the comet which, in this instance, represents the well-known princely standard with six horse-tails. Owdoo Kaderre said: “ I cannot give thee Tarauri-me-wutsia-fudu. For that which it demands as an offering of sacrifice (food) is very difficult to get.” Alledjenu Djiberri said: “Tell me what it is Tarauri-me-wutsia-fudu eats. I will provide it.” Owdoo Kaderre said: “ It eats only men. But those alone do not satisfy it. From time to time it must have a King. And that is the great and difficult thing.” Djiberri said: “Owdoo Kaderre! That is a great and difficult thing. But I will show thee that I am the Ailedjenu Djiberri. He can achieve it.” Owdoo Kaderre said: “It is well! Take thou the star with the four tails. But if thou canst not give Tarauri-me-wutsia-fudu a King to eat it will return to me.” Alledjenu said: “I take it. It shall be my flag. I will give it Kings- as food.” Djiberri carried the comet as his banner, his Tuta. He went forth, stirred up a war, killed a King and gave him to the star for food.”

“Since then, whenever a comet appears in the heavens there is always a war and the death of a King. That is the reason why in ancient days only human beings were sacrificed to the Alledjenu Djiberri. It was the only sacrifice acceptable to him. More particularly, men were offered up to him on going to and returning from war.”

For more on regional faith systems in West Africa, visit An interesting comment is made that “the Khoisan people of South Africa also have this tradition that
everyone has a star, but for them it is the shamans whose stars fall when they die.”

“The immolation now to be described is said to be in connection with the Alledjenu Djiberri; but it must be mentioned that the Nupes and Houssas both claim the authorship of this offering and quarrel about their respective claims to its origin.”

“Formerly, before the Nupes and Houssas went to war, or when a pestilence afflicted a city or country, the following offerings were made in public of old, but secretly now, namely:”

“All these three male beasts and two wretched humans were offered up and butchered in the house of the King, the Lord of the City. The meat was taken from all the five victims and cut into little pieces. Then it was cooked in great cauldrons outside the city walls, stirred up so that the separate parts could no longer be distinguished, the mess of food poured upon an ox-hide (in Houssaland=Klabu) and portioned out among all the town’s inhabitants. Everyone had to eat of it. The last sacrifice of this kind is said to have been celebrated at the turn of the years 1908-09, in a suburb of Katsena in fact, and a man who was often possessed by the Alledjenu Djiberri reported to have conducted it.”

“Now Alledjenu Djiberri was, and still is, worshipped in the Houssa lands in a temple whose most important implements of service are: firstly, a sword which stands erect, called Takobi, and, secondly, a dagger which lies down (I am not quite certain on this point), called Kube. But the Houssas assert that water trickles down this sword when offerings are made to this their War-God. In the popular imagination, Djiberri is furnished with many weapons, horses and rich armour.”

– The Importance of the Butcher

“As already stated, Napata, or Nupeta, remained for a longer period at first at Gober, from whence he often returned to the East, and there on the Nile administered justice. But after Kisra’s Maijaki (general) had conquered all the land as far as the Benue he retired to Gbarra and there, in the nineteenth year after the Hedjira, or 641 a.d., founded the Nupe kingdom, which he went on ruling for twenty-one more years. Upon his death he was suc¬ ceeded by his son. Thirty-four descendants of Nupeta in all reigned over Nupe and Yoruba paid them tribute during the whole of the time. After that the Yorubans again got the upper hand. When Nupeta died, there were buried with him the Saraki who gave him his drink, the Saraki who served him with meat, the Saraki who managed his household and the Saraki who looked after his horses.”

– Of the Market in Bida

Large Kalamba (passage house or door edifice) in Bida. (Photo by Leo Frobenius.)

A singular thing about the Bida market is that its greatest activity begins at or before dusk. I could not think why this was so at first. Why are the markets everywhere else held in the day-time and not also here? — The answer is simple enough: Bida is an industrial city, and, next to Kano, the largest in Africa and, in many respects, as Kano people assured me, very much its superior. Everyone works at his trade in Bida in the quarters assigned to his guild from early morn to dewy eve. Then there is only time to clean oneself and go to market.

We all, of course, know that when the sun rises on a great city of Europe, the apprentice sets out for his master’s workshop; works all day long at his appointed place at the job set him; goes on with it after breakfast and dinner-time; knocks off about dusk and thinks this nothing but natural and as it ought to be; do we not? What else should we think at home about a regular artisan, lawyer’s clerk, shop assistant, or whatever he may be? Very well, then! And it is for all the world the same thing in Bida, that curious capital of Nupeland. Now, that sounds only like a fairy-tale, but would in reality be the commonest prose but for the fact that masters and ’prentices, clerks and merchants, barbers, and the many, many women especially, would look so very different. I have cudgelled my brains how best to stimulate the reader’s imagination by a comparison. If this involved nothing but describing the marke-life, the allusion to the Arabian Nights and the sights of great Bagdad, so vivid from our childish days, were quite simple and a matter of course. But with regard to Bida such a comparison applies only to a part of its activities. The essential particulars of daily life, the busy pursuit of craftsmanship which also goes on in the bazaar itself, are all the more markedly characteristic of Bida, because they recall and compel us to think of the manner of life of our own mediaeval guilds.

If now, on this ninth day of March, I am to conduct you out of our Tsoadja lodgings into the turmoil of industry in the mart, if I should squeeze you into the eddies made by the lounging, chaffering, hunched-up and by-standing thousands, a vision of a lazy, good-for-nothing, sleepy and indifferent negro society would be the reverse of reality. The true picture is one of people who have toiled very hard all the day through. Many of them have been hard at it in the workshops of their guilds. They have washed off the coal-smears, the oil-stains and stone-dust, shaken the shavings off from their nether garments and combed the cotton-flakes out of their curls. Then they have put on a fine, large, gaily-embroidered coat, and now they saunter bazaarwards.

Most of them have arranged the goods they have finished. Women come and take them away in their baskets, quite systematically. The wives of the workers in wood in the Esoa-baji sit in a long row on the Dsukoko, selling clay-stampers, stools, pick-handles, wooden pestles and mortars, and so on. Then comes a row of straw and matting plaiters, and over there many lads have gathered round a large square space filled with embroidered pockets for the tobe. Such things as these are not produced by associations, but are the work of young people of good birth who belong to small guilds or may want a little pocket-money. So each one has brought his bit of stitched rag and exposed it. Most of these are in varying stages of completion and consequently vary in value. The lad works at it by day, offers it for sale at night and many a purchaser finishes the embroidery himself.

Leaving these stands, we come to the goat and sheep market, or Esoa-ningi. Here there are gathered by far the most striking figures of the whole place; very tall and slim Busu and Adrar with lithams and dirty clothes, aristocratic Houssa lords, and as buyers the most respected persons of the city with their usual retinue. There are also the most beautiful beasts. Firstly, the Belemi, or long-legged sheep of the Soudan with Ammon-curved horns whose points are frequently pared to prevent their growth piercing their eyes. Then the Arara, also long-legged Soudanese whose corkscrew horns stick out horizontally. I measured one pair which was thirty-four and three-quarter inches from tip to tip. The upper class Nupe is fond of keeping a fine Belemi or Arara, which will follow its owner like a dog. I noted this curious and, possibly, extremely ancient custom amongst the feudal lords of Malinkeland on the upper Milo. Next to these magnificent sheep, there was the short-legged, “turnspitty” breed of Yoruba (here called Kerro or Korro), highly esteemed as roast mutton on account of its flavour and fat. The goats are the long-legged Urias of Houssaland and the “ dachshund” Bikunji breed of Yoruba.

I often stood here trying to find an explanation of the singular phenomenon that all the sheep, goats, oxen, dogs and men on the Soudan plateau are long-limbed, slender, thin and tough, while in the West African swamp- Coast- and forest-lands one everywhere finds bow-legged goats and sheep with long, cylindrical bodies, short, thick-set dogs, bow-legged cattle, and amongst the older human tribes chiefly compactly-built people, with thick lower limbs and strongly developed, broad chests. The idea is inadmissible that this may be accidental. Some powerful law must here be at work.

To get to the Lotshita, to the right of our compound, the Dsukoko has to be crossed. From the Esoa-ningi to the Esoa-bi, exactly opposite our own doorway, there is a broad road called Esoa-da, lined on both sides with traders, all of whom have shovelled up a little flat mound of sand for exposing their treasures for sale. Everything outlandish, as well as some products of Bida and the neighbourhood, are to be got in the Esoa-da. I shall never forget one man with whom I haggled for many a stone-bead, whose sand-stand offered everything of this kind spread out on sheets of paper. He had the stone bracelet of the Tuareg and the Tommo of the Homburi hills; he sold glass beads from Egypt and Wadai tomb-jewellery; from him one could get glass imitations of old African seals and stone ear-pegs from Ilorin. There was always a crowd of his friends about him who chattered and stared and admired, but never, by any chance, bought. These starers, however, were his advertisers or touts, for in Africa also everyone looks over the shoulders of a mass of people so as not to miss what is going on.

He was the “boss ” dealer in the Esoa-da. But the little sand tables of the smaller genii of commerce were packed together in great numbers. Here sulphuret of lead to brighten the eye, civet, Kano daggers, Sahara salt, and especially paper from Egypt were on sale. These paper merchants sat and stood around, calling loudly upon the Mallems to come and write their beautiful letters and vied with each other in pompous obeisances to the literati walking about in search of what they wanted.

Crossing the Esoa-da one arrived at the Esoa-bi, where the trade was in kola nuts, and which lay midway between the Maliki palace corner and our Tsoadja compound. Every evening I bought my little bag of nuts to offer to such of my numerous friends in the city I was certain to meet on the Lotshita.

(I divert to make special mention of the Kola nut: “Kola is prized throughout West Africa by the poor and the affluent; by men and women; by Muslims, Christians and animists. It is a shared experience, a powerful cultural symbol. It is given to show respect and as a sacred offering. It is a crucial part of community meetings. It is incorporated into many rites of passage and into ceremonies to cement treaties and contracts. In Nigeria, it is even believed that the prophet Muhammad relished kola nuts and gave them as gifts and that his wealthier followers gave kola as alms during high festivals.” (Starin, 2013)

Then, when I saw my friends had made use of the last gleam of day to grab this or the other old bead on the Esoa-da, we strolled slowly down the broad Lotshita and enjoyed the sight of the jolly life of the market and the wonderful figures looking doubly fantastic in the flickering of many little lights.

A wide street follows the wall of the Maliki-Karra to the jugular vein of the city. Here squat the women and little girls who at this season sell mango-plums and limes, at others pisangs, oranges, etc., as well as ground-nut oil and ghee. They don’t only squat, do these little ladies, but the younger ones have got up and invite one shrilly to come buy their wares. And how strange! What before had struck me in Mokwa struck me still more in Bida, namely, that, shutting my eyes and listening to the noise and the shouting, I could mark no great difference between these calls and those on the Cannebiere in Marseilles and the great market-place of Florence. No doubt, the mixture of gongs and bells of the tramways, the commands of the Carabinieri, the blaring of newspaper names is not heard ! Yet apart from this—and Arriens had to agree—the quality of the tone, the tuneful vibration, these “ah” and “oh” sounds here echoed the not, it is true, always melodious but always characteristic market cries of French and Italian women.

The Kola merchants’ market faces our compound’s gateway looking Dsukokowards, but we face the poultry market when we turn towards the Lotshita. Poultry! When one of us ordinary mortals talks of a chicken or chickens, he is apt to cut a comical figure in the eyes of the Nupes. As if they were just plain barn-door fowl! Great Scott! How simple, indeed! First of all there is the bristle-feathered rooster, the tsokun-lua, then the curly one, the tsokua-bigbi. Nobody knows where they come from; they are rare and treasured as curiosities; no one could tell me their original home. All other chicken are called biji or bishi and distinguished by colour, such as white or allaji; or edson, darker, but rather more light than dark; or gilla, tawny; or tutumbirri, black and white and red; or gunguro, red; or juko, black; or kwaro, speckled, and, lastly, the biji-kwai, which has a green back to its head and a green neck. This biji-kwai is never selected for sacrifice. It does not effect its object. Besides these there are a great many turkeys, but ducks are less plentiful (the duck is the favourite bird of the Benue people) and curiously enough apparently no pigeons, although these are plentiful in Bida. This part of the market, close to the cookery and food department, is open the longest and the sellers of their stuffs or beads or other goods to advantage will go to the poultry section to take their housekeepers a chicken or pullet. For, as will presently be seen, in Bida they are mightily fond of a good mouthful. The good Bidanese are belly-worshippers.

We, however, thread our way through the bustling crowd from the Dsukoko to the central and main point of the Lotshita. Here the flood of folk divides. On the right is the Esoa-dilali, a passage doubly lined with clothes dealers. Here the master-tailors spread their best tobes, and rolled or tied them up neatly in piles at their sides. One of them gets up, unfolds a tobe with a great flourish, stands as though crucified with the robe on his out-stretched arms. The folks stop, criticize the cut, examine the embroidery, count the seams and dozens of loungers enjoy the work of art, until at length up comes an intending buyer. And then, what bargaining begins! Not loudly or obtrusively, nor meanly or stingily, but slowly, deliberately, solemnly ; indifferent statement of price and dignified refusal with the simple word “ Barka.” When, however, the would-be buyer gets up on his last offer and moves away, the seller often rises to his feet and follows him, saying, “Take it.” That is the way we do business in Bida town.

Next to this is the Esao-de, the market of the women-dealers in stuffs. Since, sad to say, a good many dresses are now made of European material, their baskets contain plenty of poor Man¬ chester goods and some cloth woven in the interior from European yarns. But, for all that, dealers with great bales of home-spuns come daily in from the Bunu district in the South, an outlying province of the Yoruban territory. The larger portion of the beautiful stuffs used by the Nupe ladies comes from there, and although they themselves can manage the handloom, their own producing power is a mere fleabite to the enormous output of Kabba and Bunu. The merchant from out yonder hands over his wares to a woman. Here these saleswomen sit and every passer-by is at liberty to plunge a hand into the basket and unfold piece after piece. Now the good dames of Nupe are just as difficult to please in their choice as our own wives, sisters and mothers at home, but (dare I say so?) in one respect just a wee bit more amiable. The careful shopper herself folds up the piece again!

Turning still more to the left as far as the corner of Maliki-Karra, along whose wall the stream of kola, poultry, dress and cloth marketers carried us, we first come to Esoa-masaga, the glassware square, and then right round the corner to Esoa-ba, the place for bamboo and building material. The former naturally fascinates us more keenly. Is it not peculiarly interesting to everyone to hear that rings and beads of glass are manufactured in a town in the heart of Africa? And if the most superficial, European idea that nothing but its own beer and gin bottles are used in the process has lasted long enough, the fact alone is sufficient to warrant a moment’s delay and make us make up our minds to pursue the subject somewhat more fully to-morrow.

Meanwhile the mantle of night has fallen. All the booths and industrial products have been cleared away. Now, the high- statured Nupe women, erect in their flowing robes and veils, bearing on their heads their beautiful baskets, pass by, not without letting a glance full of curiosity fall on us through their face-veils ; now, the dealers in goats and sheep, with their more or less unwilling flocks, move in front of us; now, all who have nothing better to do, saunter up and down the great street in front of the Maliki palace and which intersects the Lotshita. The Esoa-bonkuru, side by side with the Esoa-malufa, the hat-mart, runs along this thoroughfare devoted to scandal and gossip.

He alone, and only he, who has studied the Esoa-bonkuru, the sale-place of vegetarian gourmets, and the Esoa-mofotchi, the rendezvous of delighters in flesh-meats, only he, I say, knows the high grade of Bidanese culture, if there be any truth in the French proverb that a nation’s civilization may be measured by its bill of fare. I have studied this question attentively, and, boldly assuming the truth of this saying, I can firmly maintain that the Nupes must be heroes and Colossi of culture. For, kindly be so good as to turn your nose that way! Is that not a whiff like the finest confectioner’s? Come into the light of a few little oil-lamps, strung like a pearl chain with hundreds of links in and about the Esoa-bonkuru and the Esoa-mofotchi. Look at those thin brown cakes smelling like gingerbread. They are crisp, but to my taste a little too spicy, worse luck! Massas, Kulli-Kulli, a preparation of oil and pepper and all kinds of aromatics, and like the massas made of ground ground-nuts, are still more luscious. But almost still more toothsome and sweet to the smell are Bonkurra, a Bida speciality, bean cakes and karra, or meal dumplings, which from their bath of boiling oil leer at the glutton. These are delicacies of the primest and costliest kind; but the coarser, long-shaped bean-buns called Jenkaraga, and the yam fritters, baked, like everything else, in oil, would not appeal to us in vain but for over-seasoning with red pepper. Directly peppery dishes are cooked in oil, they acquire a pungency which makes them as good as uneatable, at all events to us, although I was always able to detect the fine under-flavour of the food. And that is why I preferred the simpler messes, like Enjibotchi, a dish of rice with a most delicious sauce, or Ekoa, a durra porridge, cooked a la Yoruba, or Sambu, yes, Sambu and Furra, two maize flour foods which can be flavoured to taste with their appropriate sauces made to perfection in Bida.

It will be well to give our sense of smell a short holiday before leaving the vegetarian restaurant to prepare it for encountering the domain of the master-butchers and cooks. Not to put too fine a point upon it, this quarter “ hums,” not, that is, the long row of roast meat and stewpot-stands, but the “ slaughteries.” Unless particularly strong measures, quite practicable, I fancy, in large towns, are taken by a European administration, an African “abattoir,” where beasts are killed in the morning and the meat and hides left in the sun all day, without a soul thinking of cleaning in the evening, cannot possibly smell sweet. As is well known, the carrion vultures serve as street and market-scavengers in this part of Africa, where they hop and stalk about by dozens and dozens round these butchering stations in the large towns, sitting around hunched up on the trees and roofs of the little shade huts. These creatures are, of course, in a sense, a boon, because they remove the worst animal offal and, it is stated, some of the faecal matter. They enjoy the protection of man, and sometimes do not move out of the passer-by’s way. When a sheep or goat is killed in some compound, the vultures’ keen sense of smell soon brings them along and in a very few moments they ornament the tops of the surrounding roofs.

They do not croak, but make their presence known by the thud of their wihgs as they settle. And yet anyone with a passable nose at once knows them, for they stink at about thirty or forty yards off, and one can easily imagine the effect on the air of the company of from eighty to one hundred such carrion birds at every killing-place in the morning. I think their existence very unsanitary. For these carcass-devourers are so impudent as to come within a knife’s length of the cutter-up and he need only turn away for a second to sharpen his blade for some of these filthy birds to meddle in his work with the hooked beak and claws wherewith they have been raking about in some mass of corruption a moment ago. But a trifle like this is nothing to the honest African butcher; he just moves his hand to scare away the importunate biped, which hops a little further off, and then gets on with his job.

Since, also, these disgusting creatures naturally keep near the butchery as much as possible during the day and roost in the trees overnight to be up and about in the early morning for their share of their favourite human industry, one can easily imagine the penetrating stench they exhale and the extraordinary quantity of their unstinted excrement. Thus, these abominable butchers’ assistants are not great contributors to the olfactory amenities of the place, surely malodorous enough without them in the rays of a Central African sun, and, therefore, let us get over this threshold to the flesh-pots of Bida with all possible speed, so as to keep what little appetite the description of these things may have left us.

But perish prejudice! The fare I must now dish up is delicate, although a European palate and eye may have to acquire a taste for it. Meat is mostly an adjunct to the satisfying porridge of the worthy West African. But in such a “glutton’s corner” as Bida, where general prosperity and even unusual wealth is the lot of all respectable fellows and a great many strangers, there must be folks, desires and opportunities for reversing the formula, and reducing the porridge to a side dish to the roast. After all, it is not surprising! All agricultural populations are more addicted to a vegetarian food staple, while the sluggish and inactive townsfolk prefer smaller and more concentrated rations of meat.

That being so, let us squat down before the celebrated cook who has set up her stall at the corner of the Esoa-mofotchi. There are two mighty pots in front of this culinary artist, and no less than three little oil lamps whose wicks are smouldering and giving off oil fumes, which the edge of our hunger prevents us observing. I hold out my shilling (two thousand cowries would also be currency, but unduly prolong the transaction). The “cordon bleu” looks at it disdainfully, pitches it under the lid of a neighbouring basket, where its tinkle betrays the existence of a whole tribe of its family relations! Now, she takes a cloth from her lap, and lo ! there’s a baby sleeping as yet, but it would at once wake up and cry if mammy were to be absorbed in her business of selling. A wise mother makes her arrangements. So she takes one of her swelling and generally expansive breasts and puts the little mite to it. The peace of Europe is assured. The sound of lusty sucking strikes the ear and mother grabs the ladle.

And then, fully conscious of the incomparable excellence of the goods which it is her pride to offer to starving humanity, the superb craftswoman, certain of victory, lifts off the lid and plunges the ladle deep. A steam of thick soup of pleasing fragrance assails the nostril. Then she seizes a clean clay bowl, which she fills up slowly with the equivalent of a shilling or two thousand cowrie shells; very slowly, for it is a difficult thing to do. It is difficult to say what this mess does not contain. Anyhow, plenty of beef as well as some pieces of goat or of mutton. First of all we see some entrail, then a strip of lung, then a joint of a tail, then some bits of the muzzle, then, at last, liver fat, pettitoe, belly, etc. The artiste, however, takes care. The shilling or its value in shell money entitles us to a bit of all these good things and, as she has a reputation worth keeping, she does not lose patience, but fishes about till the basin is half full. Yet wait a while! Patience! There’s something else belongs to this dish, whose name is Atchia-Kara. When the spoon has been well tapped, wiped clean with the finger and put back on the first lid, the mistress-cook takes the other cover off, and with another spoon fetches from the second pot a thick, gluey, green sauce and some pieces of thoroughly soaked yam, which is poured over my Atchia-Kara for gravy.

We can now rise, eat it up near by and give back the bowl or, as our credit in the market is good, take it away to taste it in secret and not before witnesses, and then return the basin. For a great many spectators gazing at the steaming dish of the “upper ten” are here jammed together. Their hands jingle the cash in their pockets, and many a thoughtless person is turning over in his mind whether he ought to “ blue ” all this money in a single evening on which he can easily live, although modestly, lodging included, for ten days in Bida.

Delicacies done in another way are sold close to this stall, in part still more appreciated, and partly prepared for travellers intending to leave Bida next day and wanting to take a Lucullan repast in their portmanteau. One of these luxuries is Killishi. Slices of meat are well rubbed for some days in succession with oil and spices and laid in the sun all the time. This kind of sun-dried meat is in great favour and its Soja variety most of all. The very best cuts are taken for Soja, which is first roasted and then rubbed with aromatic herbs, etc.

Perhaps I have now said enough of the debauches of Bida market to enable an idea to be formed of the number of good things which might here tickle the jaded palate. We will, then, leave the market with its little flames and turn to the other side.

What is there still to be seen? The market-place in front of the Maliki castle gate, the Esoa-malufa, where everyone sells the home-made, world-famous Nupe hats of straw; the Esoa-wo, where the trade is in all kinds of calabashes, is just as much deserted now as the Esoa-tochibe, or drug-stand, which is in full swing next to our own house, and where many old women sell herb and root simples and dried berries in baskets big and little, so that there is probably not a single “ill that flesh is heir to” from the cradle to the grave, for which a herbal cure would not be offered here. At this hour of the night all these places are empty. Only the stands for the refreshment of the inner man have lights. Only here is there some life and some traffic, the rattle of cowrie shells and something doing; here alone.

B. Peter Kolben; Mr Medley. (1731) The Present State of The Cape of Good-Hope Or A Particular Account of the Several Nations of the Hottentots Together With a Short Account of the Dutch Settlement at the Cape Written originally in High German by Peter Kolben done Into English by Mr Medley.


“Yet some Writers have said too much upon this point, and made them much more ravenous and uncleanly than they are. Merklin, in particular, says, that all the Hottentots, without exception, devour the entrails of beasts, uncleansed of their filth and excrement, and but half broiled; and that, whether found or rotten, they look upon them as the greatest delicacies in the World. I have spent many whole days among them in several parts of the country; and took every opportunity to observe their manner of preparing and eating their vistuals (food or provisions), and never could discover any good ground for this. I always’ found, that when they had entrails to eat, they turned and stript them of their filth, and wassi’d ’em in clean Water. They then boil’d ’em in beast blood, if they had any; if not, they gave them a thorough broiling. Indeed they are hasty enough, while they do all this, to make an European abhor the vistuals, but not nasty enough to deserve such a stroke in their charafter as Merklin has given them. Yet I had once a fancy to taste with them of entrails boil’d in blood; and whatever the reader may think of my palate or judgment in eating, I should have found it very agreable food if I had not known the cooks, or could but have banissi’d from my imagination their uncleanly manner of dreffing it. They are, indeed, very ravenous when the meat is once set before ’em, and devour it, helter skelter, with astonishing greediness and dispatch. But for the eating of rotten or tainted entrails, I could never fee or hear of any such thing among ’em.


Yet nauseous and uncleanly as is their manner of dressing their viftuals, it agrees very well with their Constitutions; and nothing do they seem to suffer by it either in health or length of days.

Most of ’em live to a great old age. Few are the distempers (a highly contagious virus disease of canines) among ’em ; and rarely do they visit ’em. I speak of the majority of the Hottentots, who keep to the diet of their country, and drink no wine, brandy, or other strong liquors. For such of ’em as drink thefe liquors, shorten their days, arid suffer under diseases before unknown to ’em. Even the Viands of the Dutch, dress’d and season’d after the European manner, are very pernicious to them.

Dapper fays, that both sexes of the Hottentots frequendy live to no, or 120 years of age; and affirms, that some of’em have liv’d out 130 Years. Their longasvity is certain; but I could not be taught at the Cape to fix it at “any number of years either in generals or particulars. I have seen many hale stout fellows among ’em, who were said to be very old; one in particular, a Fishierman, who, I have been assur’d by persons of credit, appear’d to be at least a man of 40 in the year 1652, when the Hollanders erected the fort; and yet when I left the Cape he was a stout active fellow, in appearance not much turn’d of 50, though he could not be then much less than a 100. And I have heard the fellow himself affirm, that he never was once sick or disorder’d in his health in all his life.

A separation between who eats the meat and who eats the broth

“The Hottintot Nation has a chief, by them called Konquer; whose office is to command the army, conduct the negotiations of peace, and preside in the councils. And withuot his consent they make neither peace nor war.”

Talking about the installation of the leader of the nation, “he is install’d with great pomp and solemnity. On this occasion he is oblig’d to feast the Captains of the Kraals with a fat ox, and a couple of sheep. The captains’ wives attend at the solemnity, but fit not down with their husbands to this entertainment, nor touch a bit of solid vistuals; for the whole being boil’d , the meat is serv’d up to the men, and the broth is sent to the women, who must be content with that only. The next day, or at some other convenient time, the spouse of the chief, if he has one, makes a feast for the women. A fat ox, and a couple of sheep are kill’d for them too. The men attend, and have their jest turn’d upon themselves; that is, they must be content with the broth, while the women devour all the meat.

IV. Meat Offerings

The Hottentots likewise adore, as a benign deity, a certain insect, peculiar, ’tis said, to the Hottentot countries. This animal is of the dimensions of a child’s little finger; the back green; the belly speck’d with white and red. ‘Tis provided with two wings, and on its head with two horns. To this little winged deity, whenever they set sight upon it, they render the highest tokens of veneration. And if it honours, forfooth, a kraal with a visit, the inhabitants assemble about it in transports of devotion, as if the Lord of the Universe was come among ’em. They sing and dance round it. Troop after Troop while it stays, in the highest extasie; throwing to it the powder of an herb they call Buchut. our Botanifts Spirceam.

They cover at the same time the whole area of the kraal’, the tops of the cots,’ and everything without doors, with the same powder. They likewise kill two fat sheep, as a thank-offering for this high honour. And ’tis impossible to drive out of a Hottentot’s head, that the arrival of this insect in a Kraal, brings grace and prosperity to all the inhabitants. They believe, that all their offences to that moment are buried in oblivion, and all their iniquities done away. They believe, that some final blessing attends the kraal; and that all the inhabitants shall at that time prosper in their undertakings. They look upon themselves as made, by the presence of this deity, a new people; and resolve to walk in newness of life; a work in which they trust they shall then have this deity’s assistance in a very extraordinary manner.

If this insect happens to alight upon a Hottentot, he is look’d upon as a man without guilt, and distinguishi’d and reverenc’d as a saint and the delight of the deity ever after. His neighbours glory, that they have so holy a man among ’em; and publish the matter far and near. The fattened ox belonging to the kraal, is immediately kill’d for a thank-offering; and the time is turn’d in to a festivity in honour of the deity and the saint. To the Saint are presented the entrails, well, cleans’d, with the fat and the caul (caul fat is the thin, lacy membrane of an animal surrounding the internal organs also known as the lace fat). The caul, well powder’d with Buchu, and twisted like a rope, is put collar-wife, about his neck : And there he is to wear it day and night, till it rots off, or till the insect, at another visit, alights upon another inhabitant of the Kraal when he is at liberty to remove it. If this happens not, he must wear it through all the stages of putrefacation, and while a bit remains. He feasts alone on the entrails, which are boil’d ; while the men devour the meat, prepar’d the same way; and the women are regal’d with the broth, of the fat he is oblig’d to be very careful; and to anoint his body and apparel with that only, while any of it remains, without rejecting the least bit of it.

The case, in every respect, is the same, if the insect alights upon a woman. She commences a saint, with the fame solemnities; only here the women feast upon the meat, while the men are regal’d with the broth.

– A section from CHAP. XL Customs of the Hottentots on the Delivery of the Women

When a Hottentot woman is near her time; she is generally join’d by two or three women of her kindred or Acquaintance, who attend her till she is deliver’d. When the pains are upon her, the midwife arrives, and lays her upon a kroffe or mantie on the Ground. Her Husband, if he is at home, gets him out of door, and puts not his head into the hut again till she is deliver’d, without being reckon’d unclean, and forfieting, as a cleansing Andersmaken, a sheep, in some places the forfiet is two, to the men of the Kraal;
who devour the meat, and send the broth to their wives.

From the marriage ceremony

This is the Whole of the Nuptial Cermony; which being over, the whole Company rise and join in preparing the feast. The Oxen, kill’d on this occasion, they cut into a great many pieces, and dress ’em all at once. Some pieces they boil; the rest they roast. Their Method of boiling is like that of the Europeans. But their roasting is’ quite another thing; and deserves a particular description. A large flat stone is fasten’d in the ground in the manner of a hearth. On all the surface of this stone they make a brisk fire; and let it burn till such time as they think the stone thoroughly hot. They then remove the Fire; and having with a handful of grass wip’d the asses clean off from the stone, they put the meat upon it, and cover the meat with a flat stone as large as that it lies on. They then make a fire round about the meat, and another upon the stone that covers it. And thus it remains till ’tis roasted, and, as the reader will easily believe, it is not long a doing.

The vistuals being ready, the men and women seat themselves, the men in one circle, the women in another, on the ground; and the meat is serv’d up to ’em in pots that glitter with grease. Some carry knives about ’em, which they have purchas’d of the Europeans, and cut their meat with’em. Others, who are not so provided, tear the vistuals with their fingers: and every one eats with astonihing rapacity. They use the lappets of their kroffes (or krosses?, “from the hips , if their Kroffes or Manties reach so far, down to the Soles of their Feet they are quite naked . . . (p189))” or mantles as plates; and their spoons are mother of pearl and other sea shells; but they put no handles to ’em.

The Hottentot cuftom, which forbids the men to eat in company of the women, is for this time dispens’d with in favour of the bridegroom, who sits and eats in company of the women, but touches none of the vistuals prepar’d for them. He has a sertain portion, dress’d for himfelf only.

The next day, by the time their heads are a little easie, they assemble. Men and women, in separate companies again. The vistuals they left the day before are again set before ’em. They cram ravenously. what they leave is set’ by for a meal to the same mouths the next day.

About forbidden meat

The Hottentots have traditionary laws, forbidding the eating of certain meats, which they accordingly abstain from very carefully. Swine’s flesh and fishes that have no scales are forbidden to both sexes. The eating of hares and rabbits is forbidden to the men, but not to the women. The pure blood of beasts and the flesh of the mole are forbidden to the women, but not to the Men. The book of Leviticus will show the reader what a support those laws give to what I have said upon the origin mens’ of the Hottentots. The abstaining from the milk of ewes has been mention’d already.

Eating of Lice

The Hottentots, ‘men and women, often eat lice (they are actually talking about a tick): And the Hottentots are certainly the lasiest people in the world. Their nastiness and the heat of the region contribute largely to the generation of this vermin. You see ’em often crawling upon their bodies and kroffes (“from the hips , if their Kroffes or Manties reach so far, down to the Soles of their Feet they are quite naked . . .” (p189))in large troops: And some of the vermin are of agrodigious size. Men , women and children swarm with ’em. When they shake their kroffes, or putting ’em off, and hanging ’em to a bough or the side of a hut, beat ’em with sticks, the lice tumble off in clusters, and thousands upon thousands swarm on the ground. But the Vermin stick so fast to the grease, that the kroffes are not to be clear’d of ’em without a very tight drubbing, and a laborious use of eyes and fingers afterwards.

You often see legions of lice crawling upon the roads where the Hottentots have lous’d themselves. They often swarm on the area of a kraal, assembled in regiments as on parade. When the Hottentots louse themselves, they generally pick up the large swagging lice, which they judge to be full of bood, and devour ’em. Ask ’em how they can eat such detestable vermin, and they tell you, they do it in revenge,

” They suck, our blood, say they: Why should not we be even with ’em. They do not spare us: why should we spare them? They rob us of our blood; and ” we make reprisals. ” And so on.

You can hardly pass by a Kraalhut you see many of the inhabitants, men and women, sitting in rows and lousing themselves. But they generally give their Kroffes a thorough drubbing before they sit down to raake inquisition with their eyes and fingers. They have no notion of being asham’d when they are discover’d at this sport, but pursue the game, let who will appear before’em, with as much countenance as we do the most laudable employments or diversions.

The Consumption of Leather

IV. I have inform’d the reader already, that the Hottentots, when they are in a great strait for food, will devour the rings of leather which the woman wear upon their legs. They will likewise in the same strait, eat old cast-off shoes. The Europeans at the Cape have a sort of shoes they call field-shoes. These are cut out of the raw hide of an ox or stag, and made, the hairy side outward, in the shape of a half-stocking, slit down in front from the ankle to the toe. On the lappets on both sides, from the ankle to the toe, are several little holes, through which runs a string that laces the shoes on. But before they put ’em on, they wrap their ankles and feet in linnen to prevent galling from the roughnes of the leather. In these shoes the Europeans often travel in the Hottentot countries and they wear ’em upon most business in the fields. And as these shoes are very cheap, the hide of an ox or stag coming at the Cape, the first for about a Crown, the other for about half a Crown, there is hardly an European there who is not provided with half a dozen pair of ’em. When the hair is worn off, or holes are discover’d in the soles, they are thrown away.

These old caft-away shoes the poor Hottentots gather and lay up very carefully against a time of want, upon which, through their abominable laziness, they are often thrown. For though the fields abound with wholesome and very nourishing fruits and roots, which they might lay up in plenty against a rainy day, yet it being the custom of the women, to which their laziness for ever holds ’em, ‘to gather in a morning only such a quantity of fruits, roots, &c. as will serve their families for the day, they are sometimes, in long and excessive rains, when there is no stirring out for any one, reduc’d to great extremities; and then they eat old shoes, if they have any by ’em.

Their manner of dressing ’em is this. They singe off the hair; then, having soak’d ‘era a little in water, broil ‘era upon the bare fire till they begin to wrinkle and run up. And then they devour ’em.

The Value of Domesticated Animals

The reader will justly imagine from what I have said of this people, that they are not very numerous. A few littie Kraals, or villages, contain’em all. And cattle, both great and small, is so scarce and valuable among ’em, that they kill none, when any other meat is by any means to be had, but upon certain solemn and indispensible occasions, to be mention’d hereafter. But roots, plants, and herbs for food are here and there found in plenty among ’em. Setting aside which, the territory produces little besides wood which serves for firing to keep off wild beasts from the Kraals.

The Khoi and Salt

V. The Hottentots, as has been observ’d more than once already, never eat salt among themselves. Nor do they, among themselves, season their victuals with any manner of spice, yet they are not a little delighted with the salt- and otherwise high season’d vistuals of the Europeans. They lay in lustily of those viands whenever they get at ’em, and turn a watering mouth and a loving leer upon every dish that passes by ’em. But, as has been observ’d, such “Viftuals are very prnicious to em’. They are often sick at the stomach, and often attack’d with fever; after such eating. And such of ’em as eat for any length of time with the ‘ Europeans, thereby subject themselves to many other maladies they were in no danger of before they fell into such a way, and attain to nothing near age to which the Hottentots ordinarily live.

Men and Woman Eating Apart or Together

VI. It has been-observ’d up and down in the foregoing part of this history, that the men and the women eat not together.

” It has been “, say they, ‘ the Custom in all *« times for the men to avoid joining with the ‘ women not only in their meals but in any entertaiament whatsoever. There is no excepti’ on to this but the indulgence that is granted to a man on his marriage-day. ” The Reason they assign for this custom which I got after much tugging, is this: ” We look upon a man, say they, as extremely defil’d who touches a woman or any thing belonging to her, or partakes with her of the same food, or comes but near her, while the menses are upon her ; and ” if he is known to be under such defilement, he is oblig’d, if he is not content the men should’ forever shun him, to purifie himself by offering an ox. Now, we so often, men and woman, are call’d to partake of the feasts at the Andersmaken, and we so often eat without neighbours, that if the sexes at those times were to eat together, it were a great hazard every time, but all the men were defil’d; for it rarely happens in an assembly of women, but one or other of ’em has the menfes upon her. We therefore, the men, avoid the women at those times. And those times return so quick, that we make it, as our ancestors did for the same reason a custom to avoid eating with our wives or joining in any of their entertainments at home.

The reason, which I have put in the best light I can is a very shallow one, as the reader, if he weighs the foregoing part of this history, will easily see. But ’tis the only one I could get from ’em.

If a Hottentot man and his wife are in the service of an European, and under the same roof, the regard they pay to this custom obliges the European to assign ’em each a different portion of victuals, which they constantly eat at a good distance from one another.

VII. The Men, when they travel or go a hunting, provide themselves with Dacba and tobacco and with brandy if they can. They never stir without a pipe of some sort. If they are attack’d with hunger at any considerable distance from home and from any kraal, they repel it with roots and fruits which they find in the fields, and which they eat raw.

But the wealthy Hottentots, when they travel, generally carry with ’em a convenient portion of flesh. And being generally provided with flint and steel, and fuel being to be had in any part of the Hottentot countries, they can easily make a fire anywhere for roasting the flesh. Such as are not provided with flint and steel get fire for lighting their pipes, by rubbing a dry twig upon a piece of iron-wood they carry with ’em. They rub the twig so quick and hard, that smoak is presently begot, and presently a flame; which, if they want to roast meat, they preserve by the immediate addition of other fuel. If they are obliged to lie all night in the fields, they generally make a large fire to fright the wild beasts from’em, and guard ’em, while they, repose, from any inclemency of the air. Their tinder is a dry reed, which catches fire as quick as the tinder we make of the finest rags.

On Recovering from Illness

I have only to add here, that if a Hottentot man or woman, recovers of a dangerous fit of sickness, andersmaken is perform’d by killing, for the entertainment of the kraal, a head of great or small cattle, according to the circumstances of the family. If ’tis a man who recovers, the men devour the meat, and send the broth to the women. If ’tis a woman, the women eat up all the meat; and the men are regal’d with the broth only.


Dacha, is a thing, of which the Hottentots are likewise righty fond. It banishes care and anxiety, say they, like wine or brandy, and inspires them with a million of delightful fancies. I know nothing by experience of the delights, they say, it throws into the imagination: But this I know, that it often intoxicates ’em to downright madness. The strongest distillations have not a more furious effect upon the head of an European, than dacha has upon the brains of a hottentot. It sets his tongue a going like the flyer of a Jack, He raves, stares and capers as if he was possess’d; and loses himself in a million of the wildest actions and incoherencies. They often mix dacha and tobacco together, and then call it buspasch.

In onother part of the work, the following is reported on: “To the Europeans the Hottentots barter cattle, some elephants teeth, the eggs of ostriches, and, now and then, some skins of wild beasts; particulariy of wild horses and wild asses. The Hottentots receive in exchange, wine, brandy, tobacco, dacha, corral, beads, tobacco pipes, small looking glasses, knives, iron, small bits of polish’d brass or copper, ear-rings, and, now and then, the kanna root. The Hottentots have little or no notion of any other goods either for use or ornament. India silks, which they often see, and other rich and beautiful manufactures for furniture and apparel, strike not them.

In another place: “Before tobacco was brought to ’em, they made use of dacha on this occasion.”


Mungo Park, James Rennell. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa. Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797.

Front Cover

Francois le Vaillant: Travels into the interior of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. Volume 1

Peter Kolben; Mr Medley. (1731) The Present State of The Cape of Good-Hope Or A Particular Account of the Several Nations of the Hottentots Together With a Short Account of the Dutch Settlement at the Cape Written originally in High German by Peter Kolben done Into English by Mr Medley. Published by W Innys, London, 1731

Frobenius, Leo. (Originally published: 1913)The Voice of Africa, Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912

Starin D. Kola nut: so much more than just a nut. J R Soc Med. 2013 Dec;106(12):510-2. doi: 10.1177/0141076813507708. Epub 2013 Oct 24. PMID: 24158941; PMCID: PMC3842857.