Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tatsie, the thick skinned Bushman

One Bushman from the old generation caused a lot of problems in the community because of his ill temper and his unsocial behaviour. He showed very little respect to the rest of his people and abused his powers and standing amongst them. A strong and brave Bushman with extraordinary powers and access to magic, he had the potential to be a great leader and respected hunter. Unfortunately his laziness and bad habits made his fellow Bushmen resentful but they were scared to challenge him.

 The children were especially scared of him and the “daslat” that he carried with him. A “daslat” is a long straight shoot that grows from the Karee trees in summer. This new branch, as thick as a finger and about two meters long, often grew quite straight and was very flexible. Tatsie would strip the leaves off this young shoot, to reveal a sticky tip that was ideal for catching dassies, that like to hide deep down in their crevasses of the koppies. Tatsie would reach in and push the sticky part of the shoot onto the skin of the poor hyraxes.  The dassie's hair would stick to the tip of the shoot and by turning the stick; he wound the hair and then the skin around the tip of the “daslat”. This way the unlucky dassie found itself attached to the end of the branch and could be pulled from its hiding place kicking and screaming. He never shared any of this meat or skins of the dassies that he caught. This long thin straight branch is called a “lat” and a single hyrax is a “das”. That is why this straight young Karee shoot was called a “daslat”. No wonder the dassies hated Tatsie.

 Certain times of the year the “Watersnake” would move far away and the land of the Bushmen would get very dry. During those times the children have to walk long distances to fetch water for the household. The bigger and stronger of the children could carry a whole springbok stomach full of water but the younger ones only two ostrich eggs filled with water. Tatsie was too lazy to go and fetch water, for himself. He would wait for the children to come back and take one of the eggs and drink the water from it. If the child protested or cried he would simply break the egg on the ground and they would get into trouble with their parents. When he was very thirsty or wanted to wash his hands he would grab the springbok “pens” or stomach from one of the bigger children and use all of that water. If the child protested or tried to run away he would cut a hole in it with his knife and drink from the water pouring out of the hole.

 The children tried to avoid him and would run away when they saw him coming. He could run very fast for his size and would hit them over the head with his “daslat” until they stop. They complained to their parents about Tatsie's nasty habits but to no avail. The parents had their own problems with Tatsie and because he was so much bigger and stronger, they were afraid of him. On top of it all Tatsie also knew some very powerful magic and that was why most of the adults pretended to like him. They would smile at him and be friendly towards him but deep in their hearts they rather wished he was dead. He would pitch up unannounced at the most inconvenient times and it wouldn't bother him at all. His uncanny ability to know when the meat was almost ready amazed them the most. It didn't bother him in the least to walk in on a family and cut the juiciest piece of eland meat for himself .

Even when food was scarce, he would walk in and dish up most of the “Bushmen rice”. Women would gather thousands of termites and fry it on the fire to make “Bushmen rice”.  If they complained about him taking the “Bushmen rice” he would just say that there are still thousands of termites out there for them to gather tomorrow. When asked why he doesn't collect his own “Bushmen rice” he would say that he has better things to do. If the women try to take the food from him or start nagging him to give it back he would eat his fill and throw the rest into the fire to burn. This unsocial behaviour carried on for a long time and the Bushmen even tried to move away from the place where they were staying but he followed them wherever they went.

One year there were many tortoises in the veld and the Bushmen would just pick them up and take them home to eat. They noticed that Tatsie would never eat the heart or liver of the tortoise which were sought after morsels to the other Bushmen. One evening one of the wise old Bushmen women came across the owl and asked him what they could do to get the upper hand over Tatsie. The owl softly whispered into her ear (because even he was scared of Tatsie) to give him the heart and liver of a tortoise to eat. When she tried to do that, he just threw it into the fire and murmured to himself that it would make him dumb and slow like a tortoise. That gave her an idea, which she kept secret even from her own husband because she was scared of Tatsie's magic.

The next time the men brought some nice fat eland meat home, the wise lady took the heart and liver of a tortoise and hid it in the juiciest part of the meat before they started to “braai” the meat over the open fire. Lo and behold when the meat was almost perfectly cooked, Tatsie walked into the circle of light around the fire and asked what they were busy cooking for dinner. They just looked at him and put on their fake smiles as usual. He didn't wait for an answer and as usual proceeded to cut a large piece of the juiciest meat for himself, hardly leaving enough for the others to eat. Once he finished his meat the wise old lady noticed that he was moving much slower and asked him some questions.

“Why don't you eat the heart and liver of the tortoise?” she asked.

“Because - - it will - - make  - - me  -  - mmm - - dumb  - - and - -  slow  - - just like - -  my cousin - - er - -  the - - tortoise”, he answered in a slow and slurry voice without looking up from the fire.

That is what the wise old lady was waiting for and she called her husband aside and told him to shoot Tatsie with one of his poison arrows. Tatsie didn't even know what hit him and after a short while fell over backwards and died. All the Bushmen were shouting in celebration and were so happy to get the upper hand over Tatsie that they danced around the fire most of the night. They kicked sand into his eyes to stop him from recognizing them and even the children spat on him and laughed happily because he was dead! Later they pulled his body far away from the kraal and left him there for the wild animals to eat. When they heard his bones being crushed by the hyenas and the jackals fighting over the pieces, they didn't feel sorry at all and carried on sleeping with a smile on their faces.

Those smiles disappeared like darkness before the sun when they saw Tatsie walking towards them the next morning. He was healthy and happy without a scratch and said he was hungry from fighting with the hyenas the night before. The other Bushmen couldn't believe their eyes and got even more scared of him and the powerful magic that he had.  Tatsie was his mean old self and didn't seem to remember anything that happened to him the night before. He kept on scaring the children and abusing his powerful position to get whatever he wanted. Because the Bushmen were so scared of his magic they didn't even try and hide food from him and just smiled their fake smiles when he walked into their huts and drank their water. Not long after this the wise lady saw another chance to get rid of this troublesome thick-skinned character.

The hunters shot a fat Gemsbok (Kalahari Oryx) and again the wise lady put the heart and liver of a tortoise into the best part of the meat. When the meat was grilled to perfection Tatsie walked into the kraal and again without asking cut the best piece for himself. As with the previous time he started  moving slower and slower and when he just stared into the fire without eating, the wise woman got three of the hunters to shoot their poison arrows into Tatsie's neck. When he fell over and died, they took him down to the river and tied a big stone to his neck and another to his ankles. They threw him into the deepest part of the water. This way if he woke up again and started breathing he would be under water and drown. Back in their kraal there was already dancing and celebration because this time they were sure they would never see Tatsie again.

The happy mood in the kraal stopped in mid sentence when the children got to the river the next day. Out of the water walked Tatsie alive and well! He had such a nice swim he said and now he is feeling really hungry. He walked back to the kraal with the children a distance behind him. The grown-ups were even more surprised to see him and didn't budge when he ate all the “Bushmen rice” and most of the left-over meat from the night before. Now they were even more scared of him and all of them walked around with those silly fake smiles pretending to like Tatsie. He didn't seem to remember anything from the night before and for sure nobody was going to tell him what happened. The wise old woman kept her secret and patiently waited for another chance to kill this nightmare of a person.

When they shot another eland the wise woman knew exactly what to do and asked all the hunters to make sure that they put lots of poison on all their arrows. That night Tatsie pitched up as usual and again ate some of the tortoise infested meat with the same result as before. This time the wise lady asked the hunters to shoot all their arrows into Tatsie and when he keeled over, looked more like a porcupine than a Bushman. They dragged his body on top of a little hill nearby, slit his throat and watched in silence while his life blood drained out into the sand. A gust of wind came up later and Tatsie's body got carried up into the hollow belly of the sickle moon. There was a collective sigh of relief but nobody dared to celebrate and couldn't sleep as they waited for the next morning.

All day they looked around in different directions waiting for Tatsie to make another miraculous appearance but nothing happened. Towards the evening there was a lot of excitement building up and everybody was very happy that Tatsie stayed away. That night there was plenty of dancing and celebration when they saw that Tatsie was fighting with the other souls waiting on the moon. Every night the stomach of the sickle moon grew bigger and bigger leaving less space for the souls resting there. Every night they could see how Tatsie started the shoving and pushing and always claimed the best spot for himself. They saw the small children being pushed off first and how they changed into swallows as they fell down to earth. One night the other people ganged up against Tatsie and started pushing him off the moon which was now in its first quarter. Tatsie fought back as much as he could but he was outnumbered.

In the Kalahari the festivities had stopped because they were worried that Tatsie might be back amongst them sooner than they thought. When Tatsie was pushed off the edge of the moon he grabbed onto the tip of the sickle moon in a desperate attempt to save himself. Unfortunately for him the tip broke off and he tumbled to the ground, still holding tightly onto the sharp piece of the moon.  Unaware of what was going on in the night sky above him grandfather tortoise was snacking on some sweet bushes at the edge of a pond. Tatsie fell with such force on the tortoise that his shell cracked open and their two bodies merged into one. Completely out of breath, lying in the shallow muddy water was the first rhino with a sharp lip, similar to that of a tortoise. Even today if you compare the hind legs of the tortoise and a rhino you can see the remarkable similarity. On closer inspection one can still see where they cut his throat the night he bled to death. Most remarkable of all, Tatsie didn't let go of the tip of the moon and that ended up as a single horn attached to his nose. These rhinos also enjoy rolling in the mud to cool down their bodies and protect themselves against parasites.

Unfortunately his personality is still the same, thick-skinned and foul tempered with a tendency to charge at or break anything he doesn't like. The children are still scared of him and the adults avoid him too. Lucky for them Tatsie became a vegetarian after his big scare and the meat and “Bushmen rice” can finally be savoured by the rightful owners. Listen to the Bushmen next time you see a sharp lipped rhino and you will hear them say – “Kyk daar gaan Tatsie!”

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

The old Port of Sofala

On the East-coast of Africa just 35 kilometers south of Beira in Mozambique, lie the forgotten remnants of the port of Zofala. Once the busiest port in Southern Africa and for many decades the main seaport for the Kingdom of Monomotapa. The old harbour at the mouth of the Sofala river, is the oldest harbour in southern Africa. The strong flowing Sofala river in those days gave access to dozens of ocean-going ships and hundreds of Swahili dhows that plyed their trade between Zofala and the markets along the river on the way to the capital of Monomotapa at Mount Fura.
Today it is called the Buzi river but the Portuguese called it Rio da Sofala and it is on the northern banks of this estuary that the city developed. The oldest documented harbour in Southern Africa was most probably used in Biblical times already but it is recorded that the Arabs founded it as Zofala in circa 700 AD. The word Zofala is probably derived from the old Arabic word for "low lands" and not the Swahili because then it would be "tambarare". The name described the mangroves and flat coastal plains around the Bay of Sofala.
This map taken from Google Earth indicates the estuary and the bay south of the port city of Beira in Mozambique.

Zofala was considered a safe harbour that could hold up to a 100 ocean going ships if it needed to. The Sofala river connected the harbour with the gold producing region of Manica and its markets. Swahili dhows ferried the ivory and gold from the interior to the coast and returned with luxury goods from India and China, that was traded into the interior of Southern Africa as far as Kuruman.
Thome Lopes that sailed with Vasco da Gama on his second visit to India, wrote about the possibility of Zofala being the Biblical land of Ophir and the home of the queen of Sheba. We know from the Bible that there was some economic co-operation between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (and that they got along very well). They established a fleet of ocean going ships with the help of the Phoenicians and that these ships took three years to make their round trip to the land of Ophir and back. Bringing with them tons of gold and silver for the Temple. One gets the impression that they might have had some kind of presence in the area already and that they sent these "Tharshish ships" to collect the cargo and bring it back to Israel. Tharshish was then a city in present day Spain and the name "Tharshish ship" referred to the ships sea-going capabilities.

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible states in I Kings 10:22: “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks” Hiram was the king of the Phoenicians and he supplied the wood, craftsmen and sailors to help King Solomon to establish his fleet of ships. In I Chronicles 29:4 (KJV) it says:“Even three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses withal.“ These ships made this trip many times and every time they brought between 400 and 500 talents of gold at a time. In order for them to take three years for a round trip, this land of Ophir must have been a little bit further away than Nubia, Ethiopia or Yemen.
My feeling is that the East Coast of Africa is the perfect distance away. We know that there is to this day lots of gold in Southern Africa and ancient stone cities like Great Zimbabwe show that there must have been some thriving African Kingdoms in the interior that they could have traded with. Therefore the port of Zofala could easily have been a port of call for these Biblical fleets. Take a closer look at this old map and note the number of African Kingdoms that existed when this map was drawn.

Interesting that one of these is called the Kingdom of Sabia, just south of the "Estates of Monomotapa". Keep in mind that there was some economic co-operation between Solomon and Sheba, yet she is not mentioned in the operation of the fleet of ships. One could form the opinion that she was on the supply side of the gold and silver, almost like she would supply these precious metals to them if they sent their ships to come and buy it. Could her Kingdom of Sheba have been part of the land of Ophir? Or did the land of Ophir form part of her kingdom? Did she have a gold producing colony in southern Africa? Is that why it is named as the destination in the Bible and why the Queen of Sheba played no real role in the running of these fleets that went to Ophir to collect the gold. Is it possible that the flow of the Sofala river allowed bigger ships to sail up-river closer to the gold producing areas of Manica? How could the Queen of Sheba's influence have extended all the way to South-East Africa?

Understandably the fleet didn't set sail for Ophir without stopping along the way. There is specific mention of the spices that were brought to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba almost like nobody had seen them before. The Arabian spices and even some African spices from the Land of Punt (present day Somalia) were known at the court of Solomon but not these that came from the land of Ophir. Could they have been spices from the Indian Ocean islands like Zanzibar? Is it possible that the fleet crossed the Indian Ocean to India on the return journey and picked up some spices and specimens of the peacock there? Probably not, the risk with such a valuable cargo would not justify such an adventure. It is more likely that there were already peacocks on the East African coast because they have been trading with India for thousands of years before that. Besides the peacocks the rest of the recorded cargo could quite easily be explained as originating on the African continent.

The Queen of Sheba arrives at the court of King Solomon and if the attention given to her is any indication, she must have been a very powerful women, visiting from an equally powerful country. Therefore it was not just a social visit, I am sure the economic ties between the two kingdoms were also strengthened in the process. If she only reigned over the territories of Yemen, Ethiopia and even Egypt as some people suggest, why would Solomon need ocean-going ships to trade with them? Therefore her influence must have stretched much further than the areas around North Africa and Arabia.

The driving force behind this fleet of ocean-going ships was an economical one. We tend to focus on the gold for the Temple but how did they pay for all these treasures when they got to the land of Ophir? The biblical authors focused more on the romantic and political side of her visit but it is my guess that there was a lot more economic negotiations and far less hanky panky. I would like to propose that Solomon and Sheba agreed to form probably one of the first international “companies” that we know about and that it was mutually beneficial and made both of them a lot richer than they were before. Obviously this clever young queen saw the strategic importance of Israel where it lay on a small strip of land between East and West. Caravans over land could cross further to the north and miss Israel but any maritime trade between East and West most probably had to pass through Israel one way or another. It is said that she brought a fantastic gift of “Ophir gold”, gold of the highest known quality to Solomon. Perhaps we overlooked the fact that Sheba was the first “venture capitalist” when she made this investment of high grade gold in their new maritime trading company.

Did she manage to connect East with West in a deal that used the strategic location of Israel, the maritime expertise of the Phoenicians and her own people's skill in mining and trade? It is difficult to imagine what Solomon could have exported from Israel, maybe wine, olive oil or some dates but that would not have been sufficient to pay for all the gold and silver that they brought back from Ophir. Therefore they must have used their fleet as cargo vessels to transport goods between the major centres in and around Arabia and the Indian Ocean. If we look at where the major market was for the gold of East-Africa, it is my feeling that the Queen of Sheba's fleet was already sailing from Ophir directly to India (possibly as far as China in some cases) and then on the trade winds to their own harbours in Yemen and Ethiopia. In terms of trade this anti-clockwise routing of ships would have been the most lucrative. But as Sheba probably suggested to Solomon, it did leave the opportunity for another fleet to sail the clock-wise route on the opposite trade winds.

This clock-wise routing, starting at the port of Ezion-Geber (inland from Eilat on the Red Sea) would take Solomon's fleet, first to the Indian continent then across the ocean to East-Africa for the gold and then along the African coast back to their home base in the Red Sea. This routing was better suited for Solomon's fleet that needed gold for the Temple but opened opportunities for trade from Arabia directly to India, cutting the time to market by a whole year. If you traded frankincense and myrrh from Yemen to India for example, it would have been carried by the Shebean fleet first to East Africa and then to India. Now with Solomon's fleet it could go directly to India. Solomon's fleet would dock at all the major trading centres along the way before loading its main cargo of trading goods in India. One could imagine that they loaded beads, pepper, spices, cotton and silk cloth from the harbour cities in India. If they didn't go any further they could also have bought ceramics and other products brought by traders from the Far East and China. This would put them in a far better position to "pay" for the gold and other treasures once they got to Ophir.

Does this painting show the arrival/departure of the Queen of Sheba to have happened by sea? Therefore it is quite plausible to argue that she and her Kingdom of Sheba were no strangers to shipping or trading by sea.
Due to their proximity it is understandable that the Arabs have been frequent visitors to the Bay of Sofala. The East African coast towards the Land of Punt must have been a very lucrative and exciting trading route for them. It is possible that the curious Queen of Sheba joined one of her trading vessels to visit the Land of Ophir or was it like some writers suggest her place of birth? Either way at the hight of its glory it must have been an impressive harbour with an assortment of ships from all over, possibly as far away as China. Even on this Google Earth picture one can make out structures on the beach and in the shallow water that dates from more glorious times.

A thousand years ago it was recorded that the Arabs visited the east coast of Africa in search of ivory, gold and rhino horn. They also found a lucrative market for their cottons and beads and it is not surprising that they encountered competition from Persian traders that came and settled at Zofala in the year 1020 AD. After this Zofala became the strategic southern outpost of the Islamic sultanate of Kilwa, at least for the next two centuries. By this time there were mighty inland states like those of the Monomotapa that flourished on this trade with the Arabs and other nations visiting the port of Zofala. These African cities of gold were known, even in the courts of Europe and the King of Portugal really wanted to get his hands on some of that gold.

Not surprising that the Portuguese mounted many secret expeditions to find these African cities of gold and in 1480 a spy Pedro da Covilha, disguised as an Arab merchant visited Zofala in search of the origins of the gold. His secret report to the King of Portugal identified Zofala as the main gateway to the riches of the interior. Many other similar attempts were made to reach places like Blouberg and Mapungubwe but the results still remain a secret and probably led to the demise of those unfortunate individuals. What we do know is that the Portuguese were really serious about reaching the Indian Ocean and in 1498 Vasco da Gama visits Zofala on his first voyage to India looking for a pilot to guide them across the Indian Ocean. We already know about his second visit in 1502 when it sparked the speculation about Zofala being the Land of Ophir. What dit they see to give them such an impression or who did they speak to, that would make them think like that?

This wall constructed in the estuary of the Sofala River, is it an ancient harbour wall or part of a Portuguese fort?
In 1505 Pedro de Anaia occupied Zofala for the King of Portugal and built a fort in the hope of capturing the trade in gold away from the Arabs.

Next time we will look at the Portuguese occupation of Zofala and how it affected the trade around the Indian Ocean.