Pagadi Kop

H. Rider Haggard & Pagadi's Kop

by Stephen Coan


"Meet you at Koppies," said Rauri Alcock over a none too certain cellphone connection. "Where's that?" I asked. "Carry on from Greytown. Go through Keate's Drift, drive up the hill & just as you get to the top where the road starts down for Tugela Ferry, that's Koppies. See you there at two-ish."

A very African arrangement commented a colleague. But it worked. At the crest of the rise there was a general store, women in traditional dress ambling about, taxis parked randomly among the dust & boulders. Alcock was waiting next to his four-by-four bakkie, a mountain bike strapped to the back & two border collies sitting patiently. He took a sideways a look at the Witness's Toyota Corolla. "We'll have to leave that somewhere — it won't make it up the mountain."

The mountain was Pagadi's (or Pagati's or Pagate's or Pakade's) Kop — or it used to be — & I had been looking for it, off an on, for some years. Though mountains don't really get lost their names can change making finding them difficult. Pagadi's Kop appears on plenty of nineteenth century maps, even the most naive topographically speaking, but such maps are inadequate when it comes to finding a place well off the beaten track. The modern maps are no use either as the name does not appear on them.

Pagadi's Kop was named after Phakade (the modern rendering), chief of the amaChunu. His father Macingwane had fallen out with the Zulu King Shaka & moved south into the country south of the Thukela known as "the thorns". But the long arm of the Zulu king sought them out & they were "eaten up". One story relates that Macingwane became a wanderer until he was eaten by cannibals.

The surviving Mchunu returned to Zululand but during Dingane's reign Phakade led them back to "the thorns" & refused to return. His relations with Dingane's successor, Mpande, were fraught & peace only came to the amaChunu with the coming of the British in 1843. Later Phakade became one of the favoured chiefs of Theophilus Shepstone, the powerful Secretary for Native Affairs. Shepstone would take newly appointed provincial governors & other dignitaries on a tour of Natal during which they would visit Phakade's homestead who would lay on a ceremony for the occasion.

One of those dignitaries was Bishop John Colenso, who came on an initial visit to the newly created diocese of Natal in 1854 following his appointment as its first bishop. On his way to visit Phakade he first learnt of his name Sobantu (Father of the People) & in Ten Weeks in Natal records his meeting with the chief & the celebration of the Feast of the First Fruits.

In 1876 the recently appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Natal Sir Henry Bulwer witnessed a dance ceremony at Phakade's homestead. Among his staff was the nineteen-year-old Henry Rider Haggard, later to become famous as a writer of adventure stories such as King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain & She. The dance performed for the occasion inspired the young Haggard to write his first article for publication.

Phakade & the mountain bearing his name had played an important role in the lives of these two men. But where was it? It seems to have disappeared from maps in the 1890s when the area known as Pakade's Location was incorporated into the Weenen Magistracy. The trick would be finding a decent nineteenth century map that could be married up with a modern one. The Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository holds just such a map: the "Map of the Colony of Natal" surveyed by Captain Grantham of the Royal Engineers in 1861 & published in 1863. Grantham has clearly marked Pagadi's Kop as being south of the Thukela river & overlooking the Mooi, a location coinciding with a contemporary description by Haggard. Armed with a photocopy I then visited the Natal Museum where, together with Gavin Whitelaw, head of archaeology, we pinned down a few likely candidates on the 1:50 000 map "2830CD Muden". Calls to people living in the area tightened the net. A colleague at work who knows the Alcock family, long associated with the area, sounded them out & then I got a call from Rauri Alcock. "Yes, I know the mountain," he said. "It is called Ntanyana."

Weeping Boer BeanAnd so I found myself on a dirt road driving with windows closed, hanging back to avoid the dust pluming behind Alcock's vehicle. We pulled off at a side road & he spoke to a woman working in the garden of a small homestead. "You can leave the car here it will be fine."

He pointed out Ntanyana, its peak rising clear above the surrounding waves of hills. It's easily the highest peak in the district & I've been seeing it for years without knowing what it was.

I climbed into the cab with Alcock & we drove off, deeper into the hills. At a rise Alcock paused & pointed. "See where the grass is whitening," he said indicating a flat empty plain below the peak. "To the left of that single tree is where Phakade had his homestead. He is buried just next to the tree. When a chief dies his homestead is dismantled & the people move to the homestead set up by the new chief. The old homestead area is never occupied again."

Driving down into a valley then up again towards the single tree we stopped at a small homestead demarcated with white painted stones. The home of Dofana Njoko, the appointed guardian of Phakade's grave. "We have to pick him up," says Alcock. "He's the one who looks after the property, no one comes here except through him."

The two of usWe arrive on the plateau. On our left the plain dominated by Ntanyana; on our right the single tree next to a small graveyard fenced with barbed wire.

The tree is Weeping Boer Bean (Scotia brachypetata) "Phakade used to sit under this tree," Njoko tells us, Alcock interpreting. "It was here in his time."

Alcock describes how Phakade's huts were situated on the slight rise above the cemetery & how the rest of the homestead extended around the plain. "The plain was the cattle kraal & there were huts all around it. You can still find pieces of pottery," he says, picking up a shard.

We had to take off our shoes before entering the cemetery. Njoko stood at the threshold, raising his hand in salute. "Bayete, bayete," he called & then explained to the chief who we were & the reason for our visit. After he sang Phakade's praise names we were allowed to enter, barefoot. "Look out for the duiveltjies," advised Alcock, meaning thorns (literally "little devils). The advice came a second too late.

GravePhakade's grave is marked with a polished granite headstone with a Zulu inscription. "Inkosi uPhakade ka Macingwane ... who was the first to settle in the area with the amaChunu. He died in 1880."

Njoko showed us some artefacts associated with Phakade, a grindstone & another smooth stone used for grinding snuff on the palm of the hand. I took some photographs & we left. While I was taking the thorns from my feet Njoko bade the chief farewell. "They have finished now, they are now going. Please don't get tired of people visiting you. Bayete."

We then walked around the plateau to the edge of the escarpment giving us a view onto the Mooi River & the surrounding countryside. "A country extremely picturesque" wrote Colenso, " but, in some parts, exceeding in difficulty any we had (travelled) before." He also records bathing at a river, probably the Mooi, before proceeding to the "Great Kraal". The night before this visit he & Shepstone had stayed in a homestead "ruled over by one of (Phakade's) wives." When they had left in the morning compliments were exchanged during which Colenso was told of his Zulu titles — "and very good ones they are. One is Sokululeka, 'Father of raising-up', & the other Sobantu, 'Father of the people'. A great warrior would, perhaps be called Somadoda, 'Father of men': but the Bishop's title is meant to include all — men, women & children."

In his journal notes made at the time of the visit Colenso describes Phakade as "a very large, tall man — stout, but not disgustingly fat — with short tufts of hair growing here & there upon the lower part of his face, which upon the whole, was very much that of an ogre in an old nursery tale ... he wore only the usual hangings of goat's-hair etc about his loins, & cross-bands of beads over his broad brown back."

Colenso & Shepstone spoke to Phakade & his head-men. "Mr Shepstone began to unfold to them the special object of my visit, & to speak to them of the umKulunkulu & of His Fatherly Goodness." However, Colenso notes, Phakade was more interested "in civil matters". Later Phakade agreed the Lord's Prayer might "be a very proper prayer" to be used at the Feast of the First Fruits but Colenso was somewhat crestfallen at the next question: "How do you make gunpowder?"

In 1854 Colenso kept his journal, in 1876 Haggard wrote a letter home to his father. It is headed "Camp, Pagate's Location, May 13, 1876." He would later use this letter to work up the article "A Zulu War Dance", published in the Gentleman's Magazine, July 1877. Haggard describes Phakade's homestead as covering ten acres: "It stands on a high promontory that juts out & divides two enormous valleys at the bottom of one of which runs the Mooi River. The view is superb; two thousand feet below lies the plain encircled by tremendous hills bush-clad to the very top, while at the bottom flashes a streak of silver which is the river. There is little of what we admire in views in England but Nature in her wild & rugged grandeur."

Looking at the same view it was easy to see how the young Haggard would have been impressed by this landscape: seeing it for the first time & totally unmediated, as in our day, by photographs or film.

In his article Haggard describes Phakade as supported by two attendants, "old & tottering, & of unwieldy bulk". Yet the ailing chief, inspired by the dancing & "forgetting his weakness & his years, rushes to his chieftain's place in the centre of his men."

The bulk of Haggard's letter, & his article, detail a "war dance" of five hundred men. "Company after company charge past looking for all the world like great fierce birds swooping on their prey. Assegais extended & shields on high, they flitted backwards & forwards, accompanying every movement with a shrill hiss something like the noise which thousands of angry snakes would make, only shriller, a sound impossible to describe but not easy to forget."

"The last royal salute was also imposing; it is made by striking the assegais on the shield. It commences with a low murmur like that of the sea, growing louder & louder till till it sounds like far-off thunder, & ending with a quick sharp rattle."

In 1879 Phakade's warriors would go to war in earnest, fighting on the side of the British during the Anglo-Zulu War. One of his sons died at the battle of Isandlwana.

Walking back to the vehicle I ask about the meaning of the name Ntanyana. Alcock, in conference with Njoko, comes up with "thin protuberance that looks like a throat." It seems an odd name to give a high peak. Does it perhaps refer to the smaller hill below the summit, rather like an Adam's apple on a throat? Other translations would be "small neck" or "tiny little thing". It is the original Zulu name for the mountain, to which it has reverted after the brief colonial imposition of "Pagadi's Kop". This is how it appears on modern maps.

Before dropping off Njoko at his homestead I gave him a copy of Haggard's letter. It seemed appropiate to return it to the place where it was written on another day in May one hundred & twenty five years ago.

Copyright 2001 by Stephen Coan. All rights reserved.

See also Stephen's Haggard-related articles
The Filming of King Solomon's Mines at Otto's Bluff
and Where Was Umslopogass Buried?

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