This paper is concerned with beadwork made and worn by Mpondomise peoples, isiXhosa-speakers living in the district of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and their deployment as a means of developing modes of “survivance” (Vizenor 2008: 2011). The particular beadwork items considered here have European, mass-produced snuff boxes attached to indigenously designed and made beaded necklaces (Fig. 1). They form part of a collection made by a lay mission-worker, an Englishman called Frank Cornner, and deposited in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (1926), the British Museum, London (1933), and the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town (1936–1948). The last of these collections was accompanied by an intermittent correspondence between Cornner and Miss Margaret Shaw, who headed the ethnology department of the South African Museum for more than thirty years.1 The collections are remarkably similar in terms of the kinds of objects they contain, although many of the pieces in the Pitt Rivers Museum are older than those in the other two collections. There is no exact date for when Frank Cornner began the collections, but it must post-date 1897, when he arrived at St. Cuthbert's Mission near Tsolo as a lay teacher.2 A small “museum” of beadwork was still visible at St. Cuthbert's in 1937, when Alethea Graham arrived at the mission and noted that, “Last year was a famine year and the red people sold their beads for money, so Sr Superior bought a number and sells them, giving the money to the people.”3
THE MISSION AS SITE OF COLLECTION
That the collections were made in the context of a mission is important for a number of reasons. One is that they reflect the mindset of the collector, who saw himself increasingly as collecting the “remnants of a dying tradition” in the midst of a Christian mission whose primary aim was to “civilize” the Mpondomise people, amongst whom the missionaries had established themselves, by “education” and conversion to Christianity.4 The Mpondomise people, whom the missionaries characterized initially as “very wild” (Schofield 1960:n.p.), belonged to two rival polities settled on either side of the Tsitsa River, who were reportedly often at loggerheads with each other over the course of centuries.5 They collectively, however, placed themselves under British “protection” in 1872, a move that allowed the British to introduce new regulations about land occupancy, decrease the power of the hereditary chiefs, and open the gate to an influx of Mfengu peoples into Mpondomise ancestral land (Beinart 1982, Crais 2003, Tyabashe 1996). The Mfengu, also isiXhosa-speakers, were seen by British colonial bureaucrats and missionaries alike as being amenable to conversion and civilization, whereas the Mpondomise were considered resistant (Crais 2003, Schofield 1960, Callaway 1905).6 In 1880 the Mpondomise under Mhlontlo revolted against British rule by instigating a rebellion, killing the British District Commissioner, Hamilton Hope (Crais 2003, Tyabashe 1996). Although the Mpondomise were subjugated almost immediately and peace was restored in 1881 with the return of the magistrates, they remained resistant to conversion, and as late as 1968, Hammond-Tooke recorded that 80% of Mpondomise people in the rural areas still practised traditional religious rites (Hammond-Tooke 1968).
Collecting artifacts from local inhabitants within the mission context was conditioned both by this resistance to Christianity and by the institution of new rules of “belonging” by Reverend Gordon on the return of the missionaries and the rebuilding of St. Cuthbert's. These rules forbade residents of the mission from going “naked,” using red clay on their bodies, attending beer-drinks, having dealings with “witch-doctors” or “making use of their instruments,” all of which were constituent parts of Mpodomise cultural traditions (Schofield 1960:n.p.). The missionaries did not, however, go so far as to demand that indigenous African visitors completely discard traditional forms of clothing, as long as their bodies were largely covered in a manner that the Christians considered seemly (Nettleton 2013). These dress regulations followed those generally enforced in colonial towns in the Cape, from the 1820s onwards, demanding that the “natives” wear clothing that covered their bodies from shoulder to knees.7
The mission was the point at which isiXhosa-speaking societies started to divide into two distinct modern groups. One of these included people among whom Christianity and education, delivered along Western lines, became normalized and the ideal. Among the mission rules at St. Cuthbert's was one that stipulated that all converts' children should attend school from the age of 6 to 15 years, and all of them were dressed in Western-style clothing. The significance of the mission school was counted in the numbers of intellectuals and skilled people it produced over the years (Callaway 1936). These abantu basesiskolweni (“school people”) were in the minority among isiXhosa-speakers living in the rural areas as late as the 1960s, because of the resilience of traditional belief systems in the face of encroaching Western normative behaviors. The rural dwelling majority formed the second, modern division: the abantu ababomvu (“red people”)—sometimes called, derogatorily, amaqaba (“smeared ones”) by the “school people”—were the repositories of this resilience, retaining many aspects of “Xhosa” traditions (Mayer 1961). But they were also quick to adapt Western materials and objects, making these conform to their own purposes and meanings. It is both their resistance to Western ideologies and their strategic adoption and adaptation of Western manufactured goods in building a lasting “Xhosa” tradition that speak most clearly to Gerald Vizenor's (2008) useful notion of “survivance” (Fig. 2).
BEADED SURVIVANCE AT ST. CUTHBERT'S MISSION
Following Vizenor's claim that “The practices of survivance create an active presence more than the instincts of survival, function, or subsistence” (2008:11), I argue that the beadwork collected by Frank Cornner at St. Cuthbert's, and by others from countless homesteads of Southern Africa, tells stories of encounter, adaptation, and reinvention. Each beaded item had a specific purpose, or sometimes multiple or serial purposes, generally attached to the bodies of those who owned and wore them, and was made by persons who had a particular relationship to the wearer (Fig. 3). Thus beadwork items could be used to tell stories of relationships with one's partners, children, and ancestors, with one's group as a whole, or within the confines of a single body. The formal properties of the beadwork are enmeshed in these sets of relationships and generally appear to have little meaning beyond that, not forming any kind of sign system that can be read programmatically, syntactically, or semantically. The stories it tells are only recoverable through its contexts of use, collection, and contemporary survivals. Yet they can be seen not only as a means of making the survival of indigenous custom present and visible, while adapting and developing imported materials and methods, but also as expressing resistance to European impositions on local customary practices.
St. Cuthbert's mission was, from its inception, run by priests (first only white, but increasingly black) of the Anglican Church; by white women who belonged, and black women who were recruited, to Anglican monastic orders; and by European lay persons. The mission was built using bricks and mortar; a church of stone was erected in 1912 (Fig. 4); and school houses of brick with pine floors were built for various constituencies, including a library and weaving (Fig. 5) and carpentry schools for adults, and a hospital, St. Lucy's, which is still in operation today, although it is now a provincial facility. St. Cuthbert's was thus, as were all Christian missions in Africa, constructed as an oasis of Western “civilization” in a sea of Mpondomise tradition.8 In spite of resistance, some Mpondomise people did convert to Christianity, and many of the young people educated there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries went on to become teachers and black intellectuals in the ensuing seventy-year struggle against white domination.9 It was among those who retained their own stories, however—those who found a means of survivance in Vizenor's terms of a visible and living presence (Vizenor 2010)—that Cornner collected his beadwork items.
It is necessary to digress a little here into a history of the use of beads within Southern African cultures because it is germane to the ways in which beadwork items can be read as evidence of survivance. Prior to the ready availability of imported cloth, most people on the southeast coast of Southern Africa dressed in clothing made of skins.10 This dress varied in form and complexity, but it appears to have been embellished with beads made from shells, clay, stones, seeds, and wood (Fig. 6).11 Until around 1750, glass beads were relatively rare in South East Africa generally, as they were mostly imported from sources beyond the continent (Saitowitz 1993). In the late eighteenth century, increasing trade with settlers at the Cape saw a rise in the volumes of glass beads available to people living in the Eastern Cape. By 1820 glass beads underpinned the trade economy of the Mpondo peoples (Peires 1981, Beinart 1982). Once the British allowed trade fairs to be opened up along the border between white settlements and the home territories of the isiXhosa-speakers, vast numbers of beads flooded this market and beads were effectively democratized. What is, however, extraordinary about this is that people in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere began to do things with glass beads that Europeans had never imagined, and in doing so they found ways of both complying with the colonial norms to which they were subject, and confounding them. The forms of beaded body accoutrements conserved in the collections made by Cornner are testament to this, because they were inventive ensembles of body adornment and metaphorical protection that insisted on local thought-systems, made them visible, and simultaneously deflected the powers of European interference.
Beaders in the vicinity of Tsolo and St. Cuthbert's mission created a wonderful miscellany of forms (Nettleton 2013). In many ways the composition of these beadworks is tellingly different from the ways in which seed beads were used in Europe. Perhaps this is because these techniques of beading were developed indigenously—there is no record that the missionaries who instructed African women in South Africa how to sew cloth taught them beading techniques. Alethea Graham, a missionary who spent some thirty years at St. Cuthbert's, registered her discomfort at having to teach girls in needlework how to make “hideous pinafores” which were subsequently sold in the house craft school.12 Beadwork, which she found more appealing, was ironically regarded as belonging to the realm of “tradition” and was therefore disapproved of in the mission context except where Cornner bought it from outside for placement in a museum.
In addition, the beadwork designs seen in this collection are most often geometric abstractions or constructions, mostly constituted of chevrons, diamond shapes, and triangles in a variety of combinations, of a type that now is taken to be typically “African” even though they are, to the trained eye, immediately recognizable as Mpondomise (Figs. 7–8). These beadwork forms do not, however constitute an old tradition dating back to “time immemorial,” as is sometimes claimed by contemporary politicians and indigenous cultural commentators, because their very existence relies on materials that were only introduced to the area 200 years ago in the bulk sufficient for the “tradition” to become commonly held within a wider community. Nevertheless, the Mpondomise beadwork tradition was under continuous development from the time of the first encounters with Europeans: at trade fairs on the boundaries between “Xhosa” and settler territories in the 1820s and via the increasing trade in beads that reached inwards from European settlements in the Cape at Port Natal and Delagoa Bay. The trade fairs, itinerant traders, missionaries, and later trading stores of the kind described by Callaway (1936) and fictionalized by Mda (2000) allowed access to sufficient quantities of beads, thread, needles, and other materials to enable women to make complex beaded objects. The resultant tradition relied ultimately on invention and reinvention of aesthetic patterns and forms by indigenous artists in the face of determined colonial attempts at annihilation of both historical indigenous culture and indigenous versions of modernity.
That the acts of survivance embodied in the beadwork are at the same time equivocal and ambivalent is, I argue, part of their efficacy as a means of answering colonial power.13 They allowed for the survival of particular forms of dressing the body, where necklaces formerly made more simply of clay, wood, or metal beads became complex forms in different colors and textures, layered on bodies of indigenes at “home” that had otherwise to be covered in particularly foreign ways in spaces designated as “civilized” by the colonial masters. The ambivalence of survivance could here be seen as inherent in balancing tradition's historical integrity in the forms of clothing used against its “modern” visibility. This modernity is built not only into the materials of the facture of beadwork and the newly converted abstract geometric designs,14 but also in the other forms either accreted to the beautifully made objects or transformed into newly traditionalized objects. Among the accreted elements were, for example, imported brass buttons used to fasten necklaces and belts, or as final points of exclamation at the ends of fringes, cloth, leather belts, and safety pins. The buttons used on the band of one fringed apron in the British Museum Collection (Fig. 9) had been removed from a European military uniform,15 thus introducing into the visual ensemble aspects of indigenous peoples' relationships of power with the invader.
NECKLACES AND SNUFF BOXES
This is even more evident in a set of extraordinary necklaces worn by men and women, in which the multiple-panel necklace has a long front panel from which is suspended a snuff box with the head of one of the monarchs of the British Empire embossed on the lid. The necklaces thus juxtaposed a new tradition of abstract geometric design of extraordinary manual skill, of visual and geometric acuity, with a European tradition of naturalistic imagery. The snuff boxes, which were made in Britain, bear images of the foreign monarchs to whom the Mpondomise were subject from 1872 onwards, from Queen Victoria (r. 1837–1901) (Fig. 1) to Edward VII (r. 1901–1910) (Fig. 7) and George V (r. 1910–1936) (Fig. 10).16 The images on the snuff boxes all follow the profile designs of coronation medals or jubilee medals where the monarch is pictured with a crown, rather than the uncrowned portraits used on coins. While, in a British context, this reads almost as a form of continuous celebration, it is also a very obvious insistence on a particular form of ordained power, one not unfamiliar to Mpondomise society. This may explain why, imported to the Eastern Cape, these snuff boxes appear to have been inordinately popular among the Mpondomise. There are examples in all three of the collections made by Cornner, but there are differences in which monarchs are present. In the Pitt Rivers collection, the earliest of the three, Queen Victoria appears relatively often, but George V is absent, while Edward VII and George V predominate in the British Museum collection, and George V is the predominant monarch evident in snuffboxes in the Iziko South African Museum collection from Tsolo, which is the latest of the three. These differences thus coincide with the chronology of acquisition of these collections by the museums and reflect not only the continuing patterns of import of these snuff boxes into the Eastern Cape over a thirty-five-year period, but the terrible consistency of the British monarchy and imperial power and an equally awesome tenacity of Mpondomise response.
SNUFF BOXES AND SEVERED HEADS
In order to account for such a continuing engagement with this imagery of power, I look to the ambivalence in the history of Mpondomise interactions with the British. Asking for British protection of their territory in 1872, the Mpondomise acknowledged British power and in some ways sought to exploit it to their own advantage, yet they rebelled against its results and thus suffered the consequence of their initial admiration of and trust in the British monarchy. Crais has analyzed the Mpondomise rebellion and their attempts to assimilate European state structures (magistrates, censuses, and mapping) to their own ends as an attempt by the Mpondomise to exploit what he calls “modernity's magic” (Crais 2003:1054). What more visible way to make one's survival of, and resistance to, British colonial power evident than to combine materials of one's economic engagement with the colonial authority—beads and tobacco—with images of its more powerful objects of exchange—the coin-like profiles of the head of the colonial empire?
The appearance of the severed heads of the British monarchy in this context could be read as ironic—the wearers of the necklaces carried the decapitated heads of British monarchs as trophies, as containers for their snuff, something used by Mpondomise people in multiple situations from social gatherings, to communications with the ancestors, or as initial inducements to diviners to engage with a problem. What these snuff-box images employ is a naturalistic visualization of power not historically employed by Southern African peoples, and certainly not encountered by those of the Eastern Cape prior to European intervention. These images make the bodiless heads of British monarchs present in a portable form, allowing them to be hung around necks, handled, and owned.
One of the lesser leitmotifs of Zakes Mda's novel Heart of Redness is the story of the decapitation of King Hintsa by the British in 1835,17 a narrative that he extends to the ancestor of other characters in the book. Mda's narrative is indebted to Jeff Peres's “The Dead Will Arise” (1989) in which stories of beheading of slain enemies' corpses are documented on both sides of the colonial/indigenous peoples divide. This set of narratives has had a very long life: Harrison (2008) notes that stories of headless burials were passed down through generations and Premesh Lalu (2009) anchors his book about the significance of the severed head of Hintsa on a particular incident relating to this continuing consciousness. In 1996 Tilana Khonoza Mbambatho, self-styled as Chief Nicholas Gcaleka, raised a storm of interest in the United Kingdom and South Africa when he claimed to have found King Hintsa's skull in Scotland and brought it back to South Africa for reburial.18 The claim of recovery of the skull from Scotland is, however, possibly related to a record cited by Peires (1989) of the skull of an unnamed Xhosa warrior being taken to Scotland.19 Mbambatho, acting on the popularly accepted and promulgated version of Hintsa's demise, claimed to have been guided by ancestors in finding the skull in a cottage on a Scottish farm (Mkhize 2005). The popular view is also reflected in Mda's novel, where the reiteration of both the British recording of the mutilation of Hintsa's head after his death, especially in the removal of the ears cited by Peires (1981, 1989), and the local version of the head's having been boiled and the skull removed to Britain, are shown to be in circulation among living isiXhosa-speakers (Mda 2000).20 White discusses the significance of the stories of severed heads in African popular histories as emblematic of aspects of power relations where “the metaphorical is itself the material, and the ideas enshrined in popular consciousness thrive as popular consciousness” (White 1997:336).
Although Hintsa was king of the Xhosa, whose territory lay well south of the Mpondomise, and at a time well before the Mpondomise uprising among the British, knowledge of this event must have been in circulation among Mpondomise people from early on. Mpondomise chiefs were, according Pieres, well-known, across various polities to their south, for their powers with medicines. The skull of a decapitated English captain of the 7th Dragoon Guards, Bambrick, is recorded by as having been sent to “the dreaded war-magician chief of the Mpondomise, Myeki” after the defeat of the British at Burns Hill in the War of the Axe in 1846 (Peires 1981:137).21 Another source cited by Peires (1989) records that skulls of defeated enemies, in this case of white settlers, were sent to Mlanjeni in the early 1850s. Further powerful doctors such as Mlanjeni received visits from distant African nations such as the Sotho, Thembu, Mpondo, and Mpondomise for recipes for rooting out of witchcraft (Peires 1989). While Pieres (1989) suggests that skulls of dead enemies, considered as the more powerful parts, would be taken and used by the Xhosa, it is clear that decapitation of their own people was primarily considered to disturb the natural order, both as a cause or result of death, but also in preventing the deceased person from joining the ancestors (Mda 2000). This history establishes that not only were the Mpondomise likely to have had some sense of the barbarous acts of some British soldiers, but also that they considered skulls to have incipient powers.
While Bunn (1999) has argued that the general atrocities committed by the British in their half-century-long attempts to subjugate the Xhosa led to a general acceptance among traumatised isiXhosa-speakers of now “scientifically disproven” rumors that many Xhosa kings or leaders had been buried headless, Harrison (2008) points to the ambivalence of the British to these acts as being abhorrent, understandable, or necessary.22 As much as the British were capable of keeping others' skulls as trophies and supposed scientific specimens, it appears that the Mpondomise and other isiXhosa-speakers were able to match them, but in keeping skulls as repositories of powerful forces.
In this light it is possible to look at the monarch heads on snuff-boxes in the Cornner collections as expressing aspects of such power. Furthermore, it is likely that the images of British monarchs, which aligned with the notion of the severed head of Hintsa, would have carried extra power because they belonged to royalty. Peires (1981) has noted that, like the members of royal lineages among the Xhosa (Gcaleka and others), the British royal family are called amaTshawe by isiXhosa speakers, and thus recognized in the same way. But the images through which these ideas of royalty were conveyed within the colonial context were distributed unevenly. Although the portraits on the snuff containers are similar to the specific conventions used for coronation medals, the people who used and treasured the snuff boxes must already have been familiar with the profile portrait convention of representation of the head of state on coins that circulated through the region of the Eastern Cape from early on in the history of trade and migrant labor.23 Possession and prominent display of coins would have pointed to the wealth and the attainment of status by their owner.
MODERNITY'S MAGIC OBJECTS
Two of the necklaces of this type collected by Cornner had somewhat different snuff boxes at the ends of their quite differently constructed beaded panels from those with the embossed heads. One, with an American Vaseline tin at its end, is made up of four twisted strands of beads joined perpendicularly by rows that create sections across the front pendant panel.24 The value of the Vaseline tin, clearly enhanced by the production and use of an elaborate band to hang it, lay both in its use as a handy container and because it indexed Vaseline as a valued commodity in the mission and a sign of access to Western medicine and wealth beyond. This value is reflected in a story Alethea Graham recounts, in the 1930s, of her having to reprimand “an assistant (big girls)” working at the St. Cuthbert's mission clinic “… for smearing her legs with the clinic Vaseline and saying it was water.”25 Vaseline not only gave the skin a valued glow, it also protected it against dehydration, but in the mission it was likely to have been used as a salve for wounds and to relieve chafing. As it was imported from the US, it would have been a relatively scarce commodity. In the indigenous view, however, it might also be seen to fall into Crais's (2003) category of modernity's magic, and having a snuff tin which referenced such power might well have bestowed a particular protective potential on the individual who wore it.
The other necklace with a unique snuff tin (Fig. 11), in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, has an even more complex structure of panels of pink beads separated by blue seed beads, all strung horizontally, and crossed by rows of larger white beads to create similar sections. The snuff box has a painting of what appears to be Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, on one side and a landscape on the other. Queen Alexandra is shown here, not in the profile of the medal-like snuff box portraits, but in a typical European three-quarter portrait view, with her hair piled high on her head, tiara set atop, and her neck encased in a carapace of chokers made of what appear to be pearls,26 not dissimilar to the kind of chokers made of beads and worn by isiXhosa-speakers and definitely visually similar to the large white beads in the necklace itself. Yet the queen's beads are represented here as simple strings worn one above the other and are completely outclassed by the extraordinary technical expertise of the necklace to which the image is attached. The indigenous use of the imported materials trumps the wealth-value suggested by the queen's baubles.
That wealth and monetary value are at play here is thus evidenced by the visual equivalence set up not only through the white beads' relationship to pearls, but also in the relationship to coins in the embossed snuff tins and the gold and silver tones of the Vaseline tin and others with mirrors in their lids.27 The commodities to which these tins refer were all part of the economic exchange that happened in the trading stores of the rural Eastern Cape/Transkei, but also formed part of a chain of exchanges on a cultural and aesthetic level. That these necklaces as a whole tell tales of encounters between colonial and indigenous cultures is clear in the ways in which elements are combined and integrated into a newly significant set of objects, but perhaps none more so than in the reverse side of the Queen Alexandra snuff tin.
The landscape on the reverse of the Queen Alexandra tin, however, appears incommensurable with local African experience, except within the context of the mission station and the trading store. Its small rectangular house, somewhat dilapidated jetty on the pond in the foreground, and verdant trees in the background invoke the picturesque English countryside, not the vast open spaces and rolling hills of Mpodomise country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.28 In the large landscape, a small English-style mission settled in its midst would have been almost invisible, until it became marked by particular transformations wrought by the missionaries. Africans who visited the mission station in the year of Victoria's Jubilee (1897) would have had less experience of such a foreign and Anglicized landscape than those who, visiting after 1907, encountered the results of the missionaries' attempts to coax the African land to convert to Western ways by planting avenues of eucalyptus trees, cypresses in the graveyard (Fig. 12), flower gardens, and fruit trees.29 Rural Africans did not emulate the rectangular buildings of the mission and the painted landscape until well into the twentieth century, and the need to grow gardens of trees and flowers is still not generally felt. In this rural, African context, which was that of the beadwork items to which the tin belonged, the Queen's head and the picturesque view represented, not an England for which the wearer bore some kind of nostalgic affection, but an England manifested in magistrate's offices and mission schools, houses, and hospitals.
PONDS TO POOLS AND ANCESTORS
But there may be further dimension to the attraction of the landscape painting on this snuff-box for an isiXhosa speaker. During the infamous “cattle-killing” among the Xhosa people proper (1856–1857), the prophetesses Nongqawuse and Nonkosi reported seeing the “new people,” accompanied by herds of cattle, who were to deliver the Xhosa from the domination of the British, in the sea or particular bodies of water. Nonkosi is reported to have seen recently circumcised initiates (abakweta) dancing on the surface of a pool on the Mpongo River. Nongqawuse saw the new people, who were ancestors soon to be resurrected, and the new animals in the sea and lagoon (Pieres 1989). The new people were to bring new prosperity, happiness, and health to the Xhosa nation, largely through freeing them from the yoke of British colonial domination. The prophecies of their arrival from their lacustrine or maritime abodes appear to fit in with older traditions associating the acquisition of marvellous powers and wealth with spirits and visits to the depths in which they lived. The Mpondomise chief Ngwanya, for example, was buried in a large pool in the Thina River, where he was given offerings of corn, maize, tobacco, and hemp and a slaughtered animal annually (Pieres 1981, Hammond-Tooke 1968)
That the image of the pond forms the reverse of the image of a white woman of great wealth bedecked with jewels may, possibly at a stretch, be paralleled to a wider phenomenon of Mami Wata worship that was manifesting itself in a number of different places at about the time that the snuff boxes were coming into use in the Eastern Cape. IsiXhosa-speaking initiates, the abakweta, are painted white when they are in their liminal phase after circumcision; isiXhosa-speaking doctors like the Mpondo igqirha are likewise painted white in the phase of their initiation and they were often said to have visited spirits under water.30 So the whiteness of the queen on one side of the snuff box and the image of her pool on the reverse could well have struck particular chords of resonance with indigenous belief, turning the image of the spouse of a hated dominator into an image of spiritual significance, one which signified the possibility of acquisition of wealth and prosperity.
CONCLUSION: POWER AND PROTECTION
As an object which told a story of a particular appropriation of power and a use of modernity's magic, a necklace of this kind was, ultimately, kept close to the chest of the man or woman who had appropriated it as a sign of prestige and wealth. Its proximity to the chest of the wearer also spoke to the function of beadwork as a means of protection. Among Nguni-speakers generally, the upper torso is associated with the ancestral shades, and in the past it was often protected by wearing strings of protective items such as shells, bones, medicinal plants, beetles, and other items of extraordinary power. As seed beads became more fully incorporated into the genres of bodily adornment made by women, they displaced many of the older forms, or were sometimes combined with them. Cornner collected few of the older, more potent examples, sticking rather to those beaded items which displayed both technical expertise and extraordinarily subtle design manipulation. On forty-four panel necklaces collected by Cornner, very few share exactly repeated designs: rather, each one is sufficiently differentiated from all others to mark its own individuality and make its wearer distinct from his or her easily-recognized ethnic siblings. They were undoubtedly passed down from one generation to the next, acquiring particular and different values as they grew older. Those collected by Cornner and deposited by him at three museums also point to the powerful properties attached to such items—some in the Pitt Rivers Museum being remnants from which the important power-containing parts were removed before they changed hands (Fig. 8).
Early photographs suggest that such beaded necklaces were the preserve of men, but by the later 1950s, they were worn by young women, often in accumulated assemblages. Three photographs, the first of Mpondomise who visited St. Cuthbert's mission in 1897,31 the second a postcard from the 1920s picturing initiates (amaralwa) coming out of seclusion from a circumcision school (Fig. 13), and the third, taken by Alice Mertens (Mertens and Broster 1973:plates 13, 139, 151) of young women at a festival in Mpondomise territory the late 1950s, show a people wearing almost identical beaded items across a sixty-year period. While it is unfortunately not possible to see from all the photographs whether they were all in possession of the images of the ancestors of the British royal house, by the time the last photograph was taken, none of the necklaces has such appendages, but they were worn in a form of extreme abundance, announcing a particularly well-endowed presence. It is thus clear that the beaded identities created by Mpondomise beaders in the late nineteenth century remained important visual markers of survivance, speaking back to colonial power in very distinct and powerful ways right into the Apartheid era. This visible beadwork tradition has, however, almost completely disappeared today and is represented (although mostly unseen) through the collections made by Frank Cornner, commemorated by a stained glass window representing another ancestral metaphor of the Good Shepherd in the aisle of St. Cuthbert's Church in Tsolo (Fig. 14).
The research for this article was funded by the National Research Foundation, South Africa.
The correspondence is held by the Iziko Historical Research Centre Archive in Cape Town. My thanks go to Lindsay Hooper and Gerald Klinghardt for arranging access.
In an interview at St. Cuthbert's Mission in Tsolo with Mr. Madala, who was born in 1922, did his schooling at St. Cuthbert's, taught there, and still runs a store in the vicinity, Frank Cornner was best-known among the school-children for his fruit trees, and for his disapproval of their taking the fruit. (Interview with author, September 6, 2014). Cornner died in England in 1959.
Letter from Alethea Graham to Aelfrida Graham, January 27, 1937. That the reference here is to a Sister Superior as the acquirer of the beadwork should not be read to mean that Cornner was not the author of the collections—his correspondence with Miss Shaw of the South African Museum spell out quite clearly his deep interest in and understanding of the material. Further, 1936 was the year in which the bulk of the last of the three collections that Cornner donated to Museums found its way into the South African Museum.
Cornner correspondence with Margaret Shaw, Iziko South African Museum/Historical Research Centre, 1936.
Peires (2010) suggests that oral histories establish that the Mpondo and Mpondomise peoples were established in these areas from very early in the habitation of the eastern Cape by Bantu-speakers.
Mostert (1982) traces the ways in which Mfengu were displaced from territory in the Zulu Kingdom and Natal, sought refuge with isiXhosa-speaking chiefs, and then defected to the side of the British, gaining territory at the expense of their former Xhosa hosts. Beinart (1982) offers an analysis of the implications of conversion to Christianity for both class distinctions and ethnic identification—where many Mpondomise Christians self-identified as Mfengu.
The institution of these rules happened in all the colonial spaces of South Africa, being legislated at different times, but always following the same pattern—see Shaw and van Warmelo 1988 for a discussion of this in relation to the Eastern Cape and the isiXhosa chiefs' attitude to having to wear trousers to town.
Cornner, for example, is noted for his having arrived at St. Cuthbert's to teach and having “… stayed to do anything but that after his first two years.” He ultimately spent “a record 60 years on the mission.” He fulfilled positions such as postman (from 1899), planting fruit trees which flourished, potato patches, and flowers. (Schofield ca. 1960) His activities are still remembered by some of the oldest members of the Church, including Churchwarden Madala (interview with author, Tsolo, September 6, 2014).
One of these was Archibald Campbell Mzolisa Jordan, an intellectual, poet, and political campaigner, recorded to be one of the first black persons to obtain a PhD in linguistics in South Africa (Fort Hare University). He taught at St. Cuthbert's in the late 1910s. He and his son Pallo Jordan (later South African minister of Arts and Culture) went into exile in 1962.
Alberti's (1807) account of the “Xhosa,” one of the earliest, offers some detailed descriptions of the different ways in which skins were fashioned into clothing.
Alberti (1807) gives one of the more detailed accounts of “Xhosa” dress in the late seventeenth century, in which beads feature alongside shells, copper, teeth, shells, and ivory.
Recorded in a letter from Alethea Graham to Aelfrieda Graham, February 25, 1937.
Geometric designs are ubiquitous in ceramics, basket-weaving, carving, and other crafted arts among the peoples of this region. The same kinds of geometries are repeated across many different ethnic groups.
Mostert (1992) quotes an incident where the first Christian missionary to the Xhosa, van der Kemp, presented to a Xhosa chief a box of such brass buttons and brass medals as a gift.
Interestingly, in the Eastern Cape isiXhosa-speakers often chose the most British of names for their children's Christian names (as opposed to their African names) and sometimes as adopted surnames, as with Jordan, Balfour, and others. Hence, men from these regions were often called Nelson, Churchill, or George, a similar process of assimilating aspects of the colonial power through the processes of mimicry outlined by Bhabha.
Mkhize (2005) concluded that the contemporary contestation was not really about the skull but about different epistemological and ontological systems and explanations of historical events.
This matter was still simmering in 2013 as reported by Sithandiwe Velaphi in the New Age Online. It appears that the supposed skull of Hintsa still has not been buried, but that the ruling house of the Gcaleka is awaiting an apology from Queen Elizabeth II in person.
As White (1997) points out, even where skulls were not in fact taken from those slain, the idea of their having been taken was given life through these stories
The whole issue is fully discussed by Mkhize (2005) and reasons are hypothesized by Harrison (2008), but once again without mention of indigenous praxis of removal of heads from defeated enemies. See also Lalu 2009 for a much deeper analysis of the ways in which the writing of these histories serves to create multiple possibilities for understanding their historical significance.
Coins in circulation in the early nineteenth century included Netherlands Rixsdollars, British currency and, somewhat later, the currency of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek. British currency often had the heads of monarchs on the larger denominations, and the ZAR included heads of President Kruger.
Girton College Archive, Cambridge University, GCPP Graham A1 Letter from Alethea Graham to Aelfrida Graham, August 23, 1938.
The Museum records identify her as Queen Mary, wife of George V, but the image in this portrait is so close to one published in The Pictorial World published to celebrate the Silver Wedding Jubilee of Edward VII and Alexandra in 1888 (British Museum no 1902.1011.10418) that I have taken it to be of the latter.
Iziko South African Museum no SAM 5835.
The degree to which the landscape has changed in the past hundred years is great—the rolling hills remain, but there are homesteads distributed all over them, built in rectangular Western fashion, with few exceptions.
This is chronicled not only by Schofield (ca. 1960), but also earlier by Alethea Graham in several place in her letters home from Tsolo. One of these references is to her having won a prize (an egg cozy) from Frank Cornner, for having the best flower garden on the mission station. (Girton College Archive, Cambridge University, GCPP Graham A1 letter from Alethea Graham to Aelfrida Graham July 22, 1938).
Monica Hunter (Wilson) discussed the initiation of Mpondo diviners at length and speaks of the significance of white in this context (Hunter 1979).
See Nettleton 2013 for an in-depth analysis of this photograph.