The central beliefs of the Xhosa cattle-killing

Peires, J.B. (1987) The central beliefs of the Xhosa cattle-killing. Journal of African History, 28 . pp. 43-63. ISSN 0021-8537



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The Xhosa cattle-killing movement of 1856–7 cannot be explained as a superstitious ‘pagan reaction’ to the intrusion of colonial rule and Christian civilization. It owes its peculiar form to the lungsickness epidemic of 1854, which carried off over 100,000 Xhosa cattle. The Xhosa theory of disease indicated that the sick cattle had been contaminated by the witchcraft practices of the people, and that these tainted cattle would have to be slaughtered lest they infect the pure new cattle which were about to rise. The idea of the resurrection of the dead was partly due to the Xhosa belief that the dead do not really die or depart from the world of the living, and partly to the Xhosa myth of creation, which held that all life originated in a certain cavern in the ground which might yet again pour forth its blessings on the earth. Christian doctrines, transmitted through the prophets Nxele and Mhlakaza, supplemented and elaborated these indigenous Xhosa beliefs. The Xhosa and the Christian elements united together in the person of the expected redeemer Sifuba-sibanzi (the broad-chested one). The central beliefs of the Xhosa cattle-killing were neither irrational nor atavistic. Ironically, it was probably because they were so rational and so appropriate that they ultimately proved to be so deadly.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Jeff Peires lectured in History at Rhodes University from 1977 to 1988
Uncontrolled Keywords:Nongqawuse; Mnzabele; Gcaleka Xhosa; Ndlambe Xhosa; sacrifice; prophetess; prophecies; rebirth; regeneration; rising from the dead; Creation; ancestors; religious beliefs; religion; white settlers; Sir George Grey; Cape Colony; Cape of Good Hope; Eastern Cape; Xhosaland; British Kaffraria; Kei River; Grahamstown; South Africa
Subjects:Y Unknown > Subjects to be assigned
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > History
ID Code:1317
Deposited On:02 Apr 2009
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:20
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