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Main > South African folktales > Fairy tale "The Place and the People"

The Place and the People

To those who witnessed it for the first time it was something to be remembered—the grotesque, disproportionate form; the ape-like face, that yet was so curiously human; the humour and kindness that gleamed from the cavernous eyes, which seemed designed to express only malevolence and cunning; the long waving arms and crooked fingers; the yellow skin for all the world like a crumpled sheet of india-rubber pulled in a dozen different directions.

That he was a consummate actor, and, not to put too fine a point on it, an old humbug of the first water, goes without saying, for these characteristics are inherent in the native nature. But in spite of this, and the uncanniness of his appearance, there was something about Outa Karel that drew one to him. Of his real devotion to his master and the “beautiful family Van der Merwe,” there could be no question; while, above everything, was the feeling that here was one of an outcast race, one of the few of the original inhabitants who had survived the submerging tide of civilization; who, knowing no law but that of possession, had been scared and chased from their happy hunting grounds, first by the Hottentots, then by the powerful Bantu, and later by the still more terrifying palefaced tribes from over the seas. Though the origin of the Bushman is lost in the mists of antiquity, the Hottentot conquest of him is a matter of history, and it is well known that the victors were in the habit, while killing off the men, to take unto themselves wives from among the women of the vanquished race. Hence the fact that a perfect specimen of a Bushman is a rara avis, even in the localities where the last remnants are known to linger.

Outa Karel could hardly be called a perfect specimen of the original race, for, though he always spoke of himself as wholly Bushman, there was a strong strain of the Hottentot about him, chiefly noticeable in his build.

He spoke in Dutch, in the curiously expressive voice belonging to these people, just now honey-sweet with the deference he felt for his superiors.

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