Which of these images would you choose for the cover of my new book, “On the Warm Shores of Africa”? Please use the comment form below to give me your choice.
The book will be published in January, 2018. It continues the lives of the Allison family first encountered in “A Family Affair”, dealing with events from a few years before the Ninth Frontier War until after the Anglo Boer War. The following Is the Prologue to the book.
There is a place on the warm south-eastern shores of Africa where a river runs through a rocky channel to enter the Indian Ocean.
The river is called Xora Mouth and the territory is the Transkei, home of the Gcaleka tribe of the Xhosa people.
I was born there in July 1869, at the small native kraal which stands on the promontory to the south of the river mouth, brought into the world by my grandmother, Buyiswa, who had taught herself the skills of the midwife. A few years later Buyiswa came to live with us after my grandfather Jimmy Allison was killed. But that is another story.
I want to tell you about that spiritual place, Xora Mouth and its estuary.
I came to know it well as we went there every year for our summer holidays until Jimmy died when I was nearly six, and after that it was a hostile place, only rediscovered when I was in my twenties.
The first and most important part I remember was about family. My father was raised by his grandparents in a town called Macclesfield, in England, and never knew his father, Jimmy. But he had a great desire to know him and he went searching for him at an early age, only fourteen, he told me. It’s hard to imagine, a boy of fourteen travelling to America in search of his father, and then to Africa where he finally found him, at Xora Mouth, when he was twenty-six years of age.
It still fills me with wonder.
And that is why we trekked down to the Xora Mouth every summer to spend a week at Jimmy’s kraal, and my father and grandfather would disappear down the coast for hours at a time, and while they were visible you could see them talking. Catching up, they said. Twenty-six years of catching up.
My mother loved it down there as well. It was where she gave birth to me, a difficult birth which had to take place in that remote location because she fell when on a visit, and hurt her back, and they could not take a chance on riding back to Butterworth, and so she spent the last two months of her pregnancy at Xora Mouth, and the place took on a very special significance to her. Not only the place, also the person of Buyiswa, who became her closest friend.
And I, well I had lots of friends to play with once I could walk: cavorting naked in the mid-summer heat, dogs yapping their excitement at our heels, and when we were older, swimming in the river and the sea and driving the cattle up the hill in the morning where they would graze and then would wander slowly and deliberately down to the beach in the heat of the day and we would lie with them, always a prelude to the hated tick parade with my mother every night.
I had a special status among my friends as my grandfather was the chief of that little village. They called him Dingikhaya, and so did I. It was only years after he died that my mother told me what that name meant: “the one with no home”. She had waited until I could understand the many nuances attached to one who had no home.
When I reflect back on those days I realise how our lives were dominated by the moods and rhythms of the sea. The six or seven huts on that small promontory, perched precariously between ocean and river, could not escape that inexorable cycle.
On the idyllic days the vicinity of Xora Mouth was a limitless playground: the ever-changing mouth as the tides ebbed and flowed, the rock pools in the gulley’s south of the kraal, where we would spend hours fascinated by the colourful life, trying to catch the little fish in woven baskets, the sand flats when the tide was low and we could walk to the island and explore the mangrove swamp.
And then there were the raw days when the sea and the firmaments were angry and bitterly cold rain would lash the earth and the waves would drive into the estuary and lightning would dance in the black sky and the noise of thunder would come ever nearer until it was on top of us as we sheltered in those flimsy mud and grass houses.
Sometimes the high spring tide coincided with a flood, and the waters rose until you could no longer see the island, only the tops of the trees. On those days we truly thought our village would be swamped and driven into the sea.
Many years later it was those turbulent times that I remembered when we huddled on the sides of those hills near the Tugela and the air was filled with the crackle of rifle fire and the boom of the cannons.