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Between Sun and Sand A Tale of an African Desert   By: (1855-1943)

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Between Sun and Sand A Tale of an African Desert By William Charles Scully Published by Methuen and Co, London. This edition dated 1898.

Between Sun and Sand, by William Charles Scully.



Lest the account given in this book of the "trekking" springbucks should be considered an exaggeration, it may be mentioned that in 1892, when the author held the appointments of Civil Commissioner for Namaqualand and Special Magistrate for the Northern Border of the Cape Colony, he was obliged to issue a hundred stand of Government arms to the Boers for the purpose of driving back the game which threatened to overrun those parts of Namaqualand where ground is cultivated. As it was, there was some difficulty in repelling the invasion.

The term "Bushman," strictly speaking, only applies to the diminutive former inhabitants of the Desert, who are now practically extinct to the south of the Orange River. The Trek Boer, however, usually calls every Hottentot of low stature a Bushman.



Immediately to the south of the great Orange River for three hundred arid miles of its course before it sinks through the thirsty sands, or spooms in resistless torrent into the Atlantic Ocean, lies a region of which little is known, in which dwell people unlike any others in South Africa, or possibly in the world.

This region is known as Bushmanland the name having reference to its former inhabitants who, proving themselves "unfit," were abolished from the face of the earth. Bushmanland is at present intermittently inhabited by a nomadic population of Europeans of Dutch descent, who are known as "Trek Boers." To "trek" means, literally, to "pull," but its colloquial significance is to move about from place to place.

The Trek Boers are, so to say, poor relations of the sturdy Dutchmen who have done so much towards reclaiming South Africa from savagery. The conditions under which they live are not favourable to moral or physical improvement.

These people are dwellers in tents and beehive shaped structures known as "mat houses," a form of architecture adopted from the Hottentots. The latter are constructed of large mats made of rushes strung upon strands of bark or other vegetable fibre, and are stretched over wattles stuck by the larger end into the ground in a circle, the diameter of which may vary from fifteen to twenty five feet, and which have the thin ends drawn down over each other until a dome is formed. Such structures are lighter and more portable than the lodges of the North American Indians in fact one may easily be erected and pulled down within five minutes. Strange to say they are almost completely water tight.

A wagon and a couple of tents or mat houses constitutes the camp and castle of the Trek Boer. He has never known anything else in the shape of a dwelling; it satisfies all his architectural aspirations, it fulfils his ideal of comfort in a tenement, and he harbours contempt for any structure which cannot be moved about to suit the convenience or caprice of its owner.

The Trek Boer owns no land. He wanders with his flocks and herds over the vast, unsurveyed tract which is all the world to him, following the uncertain courses of thunderstorms which happen to have been deflected from their ordinary beat and strayed across the desert. The rain from these intermittently fills the shallow, cup like depressions in the underlying rock with water. Such depressions are invariably choked with sand, but by digging at certain known spots a scanty supply of water may sometimes be obtained.

The Trek Boer occasionally becomes rich in flocks and herds, but every eight or ten years the inevitable drought occurs. Then his stock dies off from thirst and starvation, and he has to begin the world again, a poor man... Continue reading book >>

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