Manthatisi, queen of the Wild Cat
In this week’s extract from the rich and enthralling history series Our Story, we meet our first female leader in 19th century SA, Manthatisi of the Wild Cat People. This story of the queen and her son Sekonyela is yet to be published, so consider it a te
48 pages R 100
So it was that as the cold slid down the slopes of the Kathlamba, the herd boys settled the cattle in the stone kraal for the night. The cattle kraal was large enough for many thousands of cattle, with the back wall being the natural steep side of a hill. Content that the cattle would be safe and sheltered here, and their day’s work done, the boys would (no doubt) run home to warm fires and food. The houses were round and built of stone. The Batlokwa were skilled in fashioning walls from the ironstone boulders – of which there was an ample supply in the area – all without the use of mortar. High on a ridge with steep and rocky sides, the kraal had grown in the more than 150 years that this branch of the Tlokwa had resided there.
Looking east, the peaks of the western Kathlamba were often capped with snow. On the night that I speak of, the white tips of mountains may have caught red as fire with the setting sun. Some of the girls would have made their way back from the little spring on the south of the village. Perhaps people gathered around the fire for a story, just as you have, and laughed with each other before settling into their huts. Slowly, the noises subsided, the comforting talk of Manthatisi’s people going about their chores, damping the fires, settling warm into their karosses – slowly, slowly, the low voices of men and women and children died down. The sounds of the mountain and the bush took over: the call of a jackal in the distance; an owl hooting as it swooped low; the gentle shuffling and lowing of cattle as they rested.
Then, without warning, as the soft and soothing sounds of the early – yet bitterly cold – winter’s night gave way to the waking day, the warriors of Mpangazitha fell upon the village of the still-sleeping Batlokwa. Even though unprepared, the brave warriors of Manthatisi rallied amid the screaming of their fallen brothers and family. There was chaos and blood everywhere, blood red as the rising sun that was fast covered by the smoke of burning huts. Run, flee, this way and that, the people shouted as they fled their village. Protected by the warriors fighting at the rear, those of the Batlokwa who managed to escape made their way with their queen to the place of the Basia.
In one night, the world of the Batlokwa had changed forever. They had lost their homes, most of their cattle and possessions. Not only that, but many had lost brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, children and mothers. Yes, many had died, some left behind to the mercies of the invaders. Join us, you can stay here, the brother of Manthatisi may have said. Yet the queen knew that she could not stay with the Basia. Already, there were rumblings among her people that they should take the cattle of their hosts, and she did not want that to happen. Open warfare between the Batlokwa and the Basia would serve neither clan. Nkgahle, of the Mokgalong Tlokwa, who lived nearby, offered sanctuary and assistance, but this she also refused. She was afraid of losing the independence of her tribe, especially since the Mokgalong Tlokwa were considered the senior chiefdom to her Mokotleng Tlokwa. She also had reason to believe that Nkgahle had been involved in some treachery aimed at deposing her, and so she did not trust him at all. Besides, Mpangazitha was still out there, getting fat on the cattle and the grain of her royal kraal, and it was a matter of time before he set off after her. The last thing that she wanted was to attract him towards the people of her birth, the Basia.
Instead, she chose to lead her needy followers westwards, and do what the Batlokwa – the Wild Cat People – were known for: fight. Remember that the Basia, Manthatisi’s people, like their seboko – the porcupine – were also known to be unsociable at best, warlike at worst. In the praise songs of these People of the Porcupine, it was said that their shields dried outside in the field of battle, and not in their huts, where they remained wet with blood. A gruesome image, indeed, and it came from the frequency with which the Basia engaged in battle so that their shields kept dripping the blood of their victims. So the Batlokwa, who were also inclined to fight rather than flee, had a leader with warrior blood in her veins.
This is the time when Manthatisi became both revered and demonised. Must a strong woman, looking after the interests of her people, become a one-eyed giantess who sent hornets in advance of her warriors? She was not a deformed and grotesque being, but a large woman, and strong, with the courage and wits that it would take to ensure the survival of her tribe in extraordinarily difficult times. To win an exclusive box set of the first 14 Our Story titles, valued at R2 500, SMS us on 34217 using the keyword HERITAGE16. Include your name, surname, email address and the answer to the following question: Who led the people that attacked Manthatisi and the Batlokwa? Congratulations to last week’s winner, Thokozani Mzekandaba. ANSWER: Mditshwa
Manthatisi took charge in spite of opposition to her regency
FIERCE AS A CAT The Wild Cat warriors would prepare for battle by rubbing their bodies with a mixture of soot and fat