William Adams to Frederick Chesson, 9 July 1878
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 60
Author(s): William Adams
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: Natal
Date: 9 July 1878
9 July 1878
The very explicit declaration at the conclusion of your introduction to the pamphlet on ‘Woman Slavery in Natal’ that such a state of things ‘must no longer be allowed to exist in a British colony’ appears to have started into action two powerful parties here, the officials and the missionaries.
The officials have begun to evince a sudden interest in the consumption of civilized commodities by the kafirs, collecting statistics as to the difference in style of article most in request now and fifteen years ago, also as to the number of schools and churches for the use of the Makolwa.
The ‘Natal Witness’, a paper at present devoted to the official interest has also published a series of articles applauding the propositions of the missionaries, deprecating interference on moral grounds with kafir laws, attacking those colonists who interest themselves in the exemption of kafirs, and threatening that petitions for exemption forwarded through them shall be delayed and if possible refused.
The government has also resolutely refused to recognize the social status of the exempted kafirs, by persistently denying their claim to a grant in aid for the school, classing them with the wild kafirs and indians who are still living under their own laws, thereby sowing the seed of the very distinction most to be deprecated distinction on the ground of colour alone.
Statistics such as are being collected may be used perhaps as an answer to the accusation that the government has done nothing to improve the condition of the kafirs, but there are two things to be considered, first how far these are a test of progress and secondly what the government has done in the matter.
In the first place to what purpose are these articles of European civilization applied? (I am leaving the Makolwa out of the question). Would not anyone deny that the increased use of ploughs must better the condition of the woman since this kind of labour falls on the men? What however occurs is that instead of a small extent of bush land cultivated by womens hoeing, the same number of women have to weed a large extent of stiff loam thus entailing considerably more and severe labour. As to what becomes of the additional harvest the Richmond district will give us an idea. The kafirs there are more plentifully supplied with ploughs than in any other part of the colony, and raise large [breaths?] of mabele, the grain used for making kafir beer, it is the most disorderly district in the colony, the men are constantly getting drunk and having faction fights.
As regards the increased consumption of other articles of civilized life it may partly be accounted for by the fact that the kafirs have a greater producing power (that is women) than they had fifteen years ago, and they naturally buy more luxuries as they grow richer, and partly by the number of Makolwa and of kafirs who have adopted the dress only of European civilization. One of the men who tortured Maluasi (case 2) is an example, he dresses in cloths such as one of our poorer English farmers might wear on a market day. Is such civilization as this any good?
Secondly, what has the government done to foster the demand for civilized commodities? It has put a heavy duty on goods imported for the kafir trade, the produce of these imports helps to support a government whose servants are kafir policemen such as those mentioned in the letters of Mr’s White and Portsmouth.
After thirty years the missionaries as a body have opened their eyes to the fact that polygamy and the sale of women are (in some cases) sins, and the have (May 1878) appointed a committee to take evidence on these subjects and collect cases, which evidence is to be next year laid before the missionary conference in London, to be by it brought to the notice of your Society. They have also proposed a scheme by which the mission kafirs shall be, not brought under English law that they state (without giving away any reasons for saying so) would be undesirable, but put under some kind of municipal control if this is carried out it will create in this unfortunate colony a third set of laws and officials and this without benefiting any Christian kafirs except those residents on mission stations.
It cannot be necessary to recapitulate the grave objections to this proposed hybrid law, which is as reasonable as the proposition would be, that another set of laws should be enforced in England for the benefit of those who cannot read and write because they are not yet fitted to comprehend and be answerable to the laws which govern educated people. Nevertheless there are some points which a resident on the spot may more clearly perceive than anyone at a distance. For instance there can be nothing more destructive to the value of mission work then that the converts should derive temporal benefits from their profession of Christianity, but this new law would make the missionaries temporally very powerful and necessarily they would favorite those who exhibited the greatest deference to their authority and opinions, the very large amount of power they already possess has been misused and as they have soils the purity of the Christian religion by admitting to the Sacrament women sellers and people living in polygamy, so they wish to dishonor justice by and unhallowed union of kafir and English law.
I do not wish to deprecate the influence of missions rightly conducted, but the toleration by the missionaries of kafir law (which through the help of your Society and others and of every honest man in the colony they were quite strong enough to have upset) has had this lamentable effect that many mission stations are centers of corruption.
It is impossible to go into all particulars by letter but as examples of bad faith in missionaries, I may mention that in answer to the first letter I wrote to the papers, on the subjects of exemption the Revd [Tyler?] said “well do I remember the joy with which I hailed that law (law 28 1865) xxx I wish to inform your correspondence that it was translated repeatedly and carefully by the tongues of their teachers and guides and they obtained a clear understanding of it.” Now from 1865 to 1868 Mr Tyler was the editor of a paper called the “Ikwezi” published in the kafir language for circulation among the Makolwa. Not only did he not publish one word about law 28 1865 in this paper (a natural medium one would say for translating repeatedly and carefully) but though there was an active correspondence going on among the kafir contributors to the paper on the subject of Ukulobolisa and missionaries contributed several papers urging them not to continue the practice, yet when they wrote saying, how then can we make the marriages of our children legal? You know they are not legal without it? Instead of replying, you can come under the common law of the colony, they said, you should all make up your minds when you all say you want to leave it off and ask us to help you, this the government will not refuse you.
Another missionary talking with me said he had 300 men ready to forsake kafir law. I said, why not induce them all to petition at once? He replied, I should be very sorry to do so I consider law 28 1865 a bad one it gives them no protection. I asked Sir Shepstone for a better law five years ago and he promised me there should be one. On my asking him what he meant by “no protection” he said, kafir law protected women better than English law will.
It appears that the missionaries’ idea of a better law is that which the Reverend Rood sketched in his essay before the missionary conference Durban May 1878.