William Adams to Frederick Chesson, 20 March 1878
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 58
Author(s): William Adams
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: Natal
Date: 20 March 1878
20 March 1878
F.W. Chesson, Esq
Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society
I have received your very welcome and valuable letter. It was a great relief to know that your Society had taken the matter up, especially as regards Martha Unuimbye [Kuwyo?]. She is no nearer getting out of native law to all appearance than she was a year ago, see what a farce the laws in Natal are in reference to the kafirs. Law 28 1865 says ‘a native girl may petition’ it might just as well have added ‘but the petition will not be granted’ the reason is that she is saleable property, and as Mr … Shepstone said the law must not be upset for her, meaning I suppose the unwritten kafir law.
There are several girls who would petition to come out of native law, but I am obliged to put them off, on account of their not being able to comply with the stringent condition, that a justice of the peace or a missionary must answer for them. It seems to me that the laws which have been passed by our government for the kafirs are a hollow mockery. Look at the preamble of law 28 1865 it declares by implication that inheritance and sale of women, are not repugnant to the general principle of humanity, and that people who are vile and degraded are not fit to be under civilized laws; why it is just these laws that help to restrain the more ignorant and vicious of any community.
It is unfortunate that the attention of the house must necessarily be taken up with the Eastern Location to the exclusion of all else at present. Mr Akerman seems to think that we have very little change of a favourable hearing, but our place at Adamshurst is to go on till convinced that we are wrong.
I would draw your attention to our political agent at Cetywayo’s, he is a disgrace to the name of Englishman and yet have him for our representative (see M.S. page 42, and printed matter page 58).
… writing thus far I had a notice that Unuimbye was to appear at the Res Magistrate’s office to take the Oath of Allegiance, so I suppose she will get her letter of exemption soon: if so from the time of her petitioning to the date of her exemption will be as nearly as possible twelve months and during this time the native department has cruelly encouraged her relations to annoy her, and exposed her to every kind of vacation, and frivolous delay, so that when I wrote last, as you know, we feared for her liberty and her life.
You will see by the cases already given to you in my first communication, as also in the accompanying M.S., how imperative it is, if it be our duty to try to improve the kafir race, that a law should be passed, declaring all natives married by Christian rites to be under the common law of the colony. Consider the case of Naomi (M.S. page 44), her children have gone back to savagery and she herself is living in polygamy, because they were not brought out of native law. I confess it perfectly staggers me, to hear missionaries say that Christianity is not concerned in these matters, Christianity as I understand it is; they also say it is better to sell women than to sell alcohol, (as if it were imperative that one or other should be done). It also surprises me to see them admitting women living in polygamy to the Sacrament, as in Naomi’s case. I also know of cases in my own neighbourhood. What idea can a wild kafir have of our religion and morals when we do and say such things, they are a very shrewd race of people and certainly see the absurdity of it, but of course they approve of it as it fits in with their views. Can we say anything more condemnatory of the system than this is?
Every one who has observed human nature, has found that proximity to, or passive acquiescence in, any abuse tends to demoralize the mind, a demoralization which gather force from generation to generation. We have examples in the white women of the slave states of America before the abolition of slavery, the opposition of mill owners in England to the regulations of children’s labour in factories, in the apathy shown by civilized countries to the sufferings of offenders in prison before Howard’s time, and even in the present day, the difficulties encountered by Mr [Plimsoll?] in his endeavours to reform the mercantile shipping. So it is in Natal in reference to the native question, even the missionaries have fallen from that high moral tone, which messengers of Christ ought to have, and look upon Ukulobolisa or sale of women as a think to be tampered with, even to saying that the custom is good in some circumstances, and they admit men to church communion who practice it. I speak from personal knowledge of the Wesleyan missionaries only, the others I believe from report think and act in the same manner. No missionary of any denomination had caused a petition to be sent in for a kafir’s exemption from native law, until I moved in the matter in 1876, eleven years after the passing of the law. Since then they have visited to petition a father and his son, the latter a well known bad character, their petitions were granted. My belief is, that the missionaries have tasted the sweets of power, and therefore have not made use of law 28 1865, and now want in connection with the native department to get that Makolwa or Christian kafirs into a position in which they will have to forsake their heathen customs, but will still not be subject to the common law of the colony, this if carried will be a pitiable mistake, if permanent good is to be done, they must all be declared to be under the common law of the colony. We do not want a distinction made on the grounds of race and colour, but we want to show them that the prizes of civilization are won by morality, industry and intellect, which are independent of accidents of birth.
Further as showing the demoralization of character which necessarily occurs under such circumstances, I have noticed that even we who see the [enormities?] of the system, pass things over quietly, that would have shocked us inexpressibly before we left England. Much more those who like the Shepstone have been born and brought up amongst kafirs will do so. Study the outcome of their policy, if it had been the wise and enlightened one that its partisans would … persuade us, and which the home government seems to believe, how is it that Mr … Shepstone has turned the natural fastnesses of the colony into kafir locations? Why did he not place them in the champaign country as they immigrated into Natal, supply them with ploughs, and cause them to be overlooked and taught by white men, instead of forcing them, to gather under kafir chiefs, and allowing them to revel in their abominable customs. Then they would have progressed in civilization. What is their state now? In some respects worse than when they first set foot on British soil. They have been encouraged to believe that civilization is only good for white men, they have been by the policy of seclusion in locations kept as much as possible from the humanizing effect of association with those whose minds and morals are better than their own. In spite of everything, the influence of a just and conscientious man, entirely alters the characters of the wild kafirs on his farms, all the countryside benefits by the existence of one of my neighbours, who fulfills the duty of the instructed towards the ignorant.
The question of legislating for the Makolwa and other kafirs who wish to come under English law should be dealt with at once; it is unfair to embroil us as individuals with the kafirs surrounding us, and to force us to act illegally by taking girls under our protection who wish to escape from native law. There are girls now attending our school, who say they will not be sold. What will happen? We cannot send in their petitions for exemption, as they know no justice of the peace, and the missionary will not answer for them (to obtain Mr [Lindsay’s?] signature to Unuimbye’s petition, I had to strain private friendship, but shall not be able to do it again). The girls will come to us for protection, which we feel bound to afford, though being illegal it may at any time be powerless. Would it not be possible for girls in this position to petition the crown, as they are incapacitated from receiving any benefit from law 28 1865 and being mostly the children of wild kafirs, would not even be benefitted by a law bringing all married by Christian rites under the common law of the colony.
In the magistrates court Umgeni division, a kafir man and woman were imprisoned for 6 and 3 weeks respectively for ‘unlawfully living together for a period of about 7 months’ see M.S. page 57. This is not a punishable offence among the colonists, but it appears to be so among the kafirs, because the woman had not been bought, and this man had stolen someone else’s property. How, if the native department can imprison or fine wild kafirs for such acts as these, much more ought they to have the power to punish kafir men professing Christianity for selling women, and taking a plurality of wives, also of punishing women relapsing into a polygamous state.
What we want here is a Royal Commission to investigate the whole subject of native government in Natal, nor would this be efficient unless your Society were represented in it.
In the case of Jane [Garden?] see M.S. page 10, she has on account of persecution from her savage relations withdrawn her petition, but this is not the worst, she has also had opposition from her intended husband a native preacher. Now what kind of teaching must he have had, when he objects to his future wife coming out of native law in which the female portion of the community is looked upon only as cattle? These two will be married by Christian rites, and if the husband dies, the poor woman will either have to abandon her children or go back into savagery, legally she has not the choice of the first alternative. I send you in the M.S. a copy of the minute in her case, you see she is designated as a lady, which appears to me mockery. From this case it will be seen that the Rev … [Stalker?] is not ashamed to own, that one of his native preachers (of course professing to be a Christian) clings to the advantages which native law gives him, viz. the right to sell his daughters, and the power to relapse into polygamy.
Isaac Kambule case 5 M.S. page 1 wishes his sone to come under English law, you will see by the action of the Makolwa at Edendale, that they were willing to try and restrain a man from putting himself out of the pale of the church by becoming a polygamist, but were either unaware of the existence of law 28 1865, or were unwilling to give up the native custom of buying and selling girls.
Masiyana [divorce?] mentioned M.S. page 28 is the same class as those granted in the Resident Magistrate’s Court Umgani division, see printed matter page 56. These average two or three a week at least, there are eighteen courts besides this one. (Unomleneba’s divorce M.S. page 3 is of the same character). This is the morality which according to Mr Shepstone Ukulobolisa secures. The abstract from the magistrate’s office which I sent in with Masiyana’s petition, and which Mr … Shepstone objected to was an exact copy of all that was in the magistrate’s book at the time I saw it.
You will see I have numbered the cases consecutively from last M.S. for convenience of reference, and I shall refer to them by those numbers in any future communication.
I applied to the native affairs office to get a copy of law 1 1869, and the regulations issued thereon, but was told that they had only a sufficient number of regulations for their own use and I could get the law at the printers. I found it could be had only by buying a bound volume so as the regulations are the only important part, and cannot be purchased, I will send you my copy. These regulations will show you what ideas of civilization the head of the native department has.
Yours very truly