1920s >> 1923 >> no-228-august-1923

Afric’s Sunny Fountains

 One must admit there is a charm about some of the old, simple hymn tunes that survives the decay of one’s beliefs. Perhaps the mellowing of the years has toned the memory of hot, stuffy, fidgetty afternoons, spent in Sunday School classrooms, and left but the dim impression of droning harmonium and simply melody. To these were often wedded homely sentiments and words full of the colour and romance that appeal to the fresh imagination of a child.

    “There is a green hill far away.”

With the clear eyes of childhood one could clearly see that grassy knoll, though most children were unable to fathom why it should be

    “Without a city wall.”

Then, especially when one of the scholars had to emigrate, we would devoutly sing—

    “O hear us when we cry to thee
    For those in peril on the sea.”

One pictured the raging sea, and the wistful face of our late playmate peering over the taffrail. Then there was that superb piece of colour composition :

    “From Greenland’s icy mountains
       To India’s coral strand,
    Where Afric’s sunny fountains  
       Roll down their golden strand.
    From many an ancient river,
       From many a palmy plain,
    They call us to deliver
       Their land from error’s chain.”

On the whole the memories one preserves from those days are happy ones. One saw the blue ice of the frozen North. One saw the pink coral and golden sands of the sunny South. One saw the smooth rush of a mighty river and saw the waving palms of the tropics. And there, amidst these natural beauties, but one blot appeared. The pathetic figure of the savage, turning from his uncouth gods of wood and stone, and stretching out his arms to us, appealing, as the hymn said, to be delivered from the galling chains of error.

It is satisfactory to reflect that one has lived long enough to see the process in action. We are indebted to the issue of May 12th of the New Statesman for an illuminating account of our attempt to deal with one of Afric’s sunny fountains. Their correspondent J.H.H. tells of a small tribe of about 1,500 Hottentots, known as the Bondels, living in the direst poverty in a corner of South West Africa. To secure their miserable flocks from the raids of jackals, hyenas, and other predatory beasts, they were obliged to keep numbers of dogs. To show them how different life under the Union Jack could be, compared with their late masters, the Huns, the Government inflicted upon them a dog tax, which is described as preposterous. Possibly the simple Bondels still thought, as the Governor’s name was Hofmeyer, they were still under the tyranny of the Boche, and decided not to pay it. The Governor, doubtless inspired by the two last lines of Land of Hope and Glory—

    “ God who made thee mighty,
       Make thee mightier yet,”

decided to “inflict a severe and lasting lesson” on them. He therefore proceeded against this mighty nation of 1,500 miserable black men with artillery, aeroplanes, machine guns, and all the implements of modern warfare, and proceeded to wipe out indiscriminately men, women, children and cattle. It is difficult to arrive at the exact result. Some say not an adult male survived. Some that the prisoners were nearly all murdered. Some that there were no “wounded.”

When the story got known there were apparently sufficient people still in possession of enough humanity to be shocked, and to call for an enquiry. The enquiry was held, and nearly 12 months after the Bondels were delivered from error’s chain the report published. According to the Statesman’s correspondent, it is one of the most unsatisfactory documents ever published on a punitive expedition. The enquiry was held everywhere in camera, and the evidence of 124 witnesses completely suppressed. On the initial point as to whether a rebellion existed to call for repression not a tittle of evidence is given. There are no casualty figures, no numbers of women and children blown to atoms by aeroplane bombs, no numbers of prisoners, no numbers of survivors even. Mention is made of the brutal treatment of prisoners, but no reply is given to those who allege that there were no wounded. One thing appears to be certain anyway, there are not enough Bondels left to be interested in the further report that the correspondent demands. Whether they “called us to deliver” or not, they have been effectually freed from error’s chain. Thus are laid the foundations of Empire.

W. T. Hopley

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