This week we continue with our account of the joint August 1824 mission by the Griqua Kaptyn Barend Barends and the Scottish Missionary Reverend Robert Moffat to Bangwaketse Kgosi Makaba II's headquarters at Kgwakgwe. The visit proved to be a milestone event for the region, as well as a historically revealing window into Makaba's morafe.
Barends’ Griqua were, like the Batswana, ultimately destined to number amongst imperialism’s victims rather than agents. Their early interface with the imperial order was, however, reflected in Barends title of “Kaptyn”, which was the product of an 1813 initiative by the Cape Colony Governor to formally recognise him, along with his cousin Adam Kok II, as principal Griqua leaders north of the Colony’s Gariep River boundary, in the process bestowing on them the honorary militia ranks of captain.
Beyond its underlying material circumstance, Moffat’s arrival was also a spiritually significant milestone. Notwithstanding the previous 1808 visit of the Rev. Anderson, it was Moffat who truly opened the door to the Christian gospel in Botswana. This is not to say that the Bangwaketse were entirely receptive to his teaching.
In his early exchanges, Moffat was naturally delighted that Makaba welcomed the prospect of LMS missionaries taking up residence amongst both his own people and also his neighbours. Excited by this concession, the missionary began to preach to the Kgosikgolo and his subjects, but with little apparent success. His own account suggests increasing levels of bafflement on the part of his hosts as he earnestly attempted to interest them in “something striking in the works of God, or in the life of the Saviour.”
On the first Sunday of his visit, the Reverend felt particularly anxious to impress upon the Bangwaketse his good news. He therefore proceeded to Kgosing where he found Makaba seated amidst “a large number of his principal men, all engaged either in preparing skins, cutting them, sewing mantles, or telling news.” Moffat continues:
“Sitting down beside this great man, illustrious for war and conquest, and amidst nobles and counsellors, including rainmakers and others of the same order, I stated to him that my object was to tell him my news. His countenance lighted up, hoping to hear of feats of war, destruction of tribes, and such like subjects...
“When he found that my topics had solely a reference to the Great Being of whom, the day before, he had told me he knew nothing, and of the Saviour’s mission to this world, whose name he had never heard, he resumed his knife and jackal’s skin, and hummed a native air.”
The Kgosi’s disinterest in the Reverend’s preaching reportedly changed when the latter began to talk about Christ’s miracles. One of the listeners is
Seeing his opening the missionary then spoke of how the Saviour Jesus would ultimately return on the Day of Judgement to raise all the dead. At this point Makaba is said to have taken an agitated interest in Moffat’s storytelling, resulting in the following exchange:
Makaba - “What!” what are these words about the dead, the dead arise?”
Moffat - “Yes, all the dead shall arise.”
Makaba - “Will my father arise?”
Moffat – “Yes, your father will arise.”
Makaba - “Will all the slain in battle arise. I have slain many thousands and shall they arise?”
Makaba- “And will all that have been killed and devoured by lions, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles, again revive?”
Moffat - “Yes; and come to judgement.”
Makaba- “And will those whose bodies have been left to waste and to wither on the Kgalagadi plains, and scattered to the winds, again arise?”
Moffat - “Yes, not one will be left behind.”
Makaba (now addressing the Kgotla) - “You wise men, whoever among you is the wisest of past generations, did your ears ever hear such strange and unheard of news? [turning to an unidentified elder] Have you ever heard such strange news as these?”
Elder- “No, I had supposed that I possessed all the knowledge of the country, for I have heard the tales of many generations. Although I am in the place of the ancients, my knowledge is confounded with the words of his mouth. Surely, he must have lived long before the period when we were born.”
Another elder- “I have killed many, but I never saw the immortal part which you describe.”
Moffat - “Because it is invisible”
Makaba - “What do my ears hear to-day! I am old, but I never thought of these things before [turning Moffat] Father, I love you much. Your visit and your presence have made my heart white as milk. The words of your mouth can be as sweet as honey, but the words of a resurrection are too great to be heard. I do not wish to hear again about the dead rising! The dead cannot rise! The dead must not arise!
Subsequently, Makaba and his advisors are said to have showed more interest when the moruti attempted to explain to them the use of writing and books.