MOFFAT, Robert (1795-1883). Autograph letter signed to his brother [Richard], Kuruman, 14 January 1836, very densely written on 4 pages, large folio (385 x 242mm), integral address panel (old repairs to wear at folds of address panel which affects a few words, seal tear, light staining). Provenance: Richard Moffat; J.S. Moffat (son of Robert); given by him to Revd John A. MacColl, 13 January 1917 (note by J.S. Moffat at upper margin of p.1).
A VIVID AND DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE COURT OF THE MATABELE KING MZELEKAZE. Having accompanied [Sir Andrew] Smith's scientific expedition to the court of Mzelekaze [which Moffat habitually spells Moselekatse], Moffat remains behind for two weeks with the King, and gives a fine description of a 'public meeting or parliament' to consider cases of treason: 'I prefer their manner of holding their public meetings to that of the Bechuana tribes. The large circular public yard & cattle fold is lined with warriors & principal men. The[y] have no weapons. Each has a stick or staff of cane or switch ... There are no singing or pauses. The latter is very short between one speaker sitting down and another rising up. The speaker keeps always in motion in the open centre ... He always keeps the stick or cane in motion ... The most profound silence is maintained ... Moselekatse himself never spoke excep[t] with making a solitary remark occasional[l]y ... On the day after the public meetings there was a public dance terribly wild & fantastic in which Mosel took an active part'. Moffat describes a subsequent prayer of the King, which he himself, 'Being tired of this heathenish sin', attempts unsuccessfully to shirk: the prayers consist chiefly of praise for Moffat himself, and he gives a flavour of the King's speech, 'Moffat is saved by God. God is good to him ... No evil must befal[l] him while he is with his children -- we are his children ... He must stop long & take a good report to the Kuruman & the white people'.
Moffat concludes the account with the comment 'A great deal of flummery of a similar nature was said', and confides his strong suspicions that judicial murders were carried out the same evening, although an attempt is made to hide the fact from him: 'The men were killed in the usual way by thrusting a long stick up thro the body & cast out to beast[s] of prey. The women were tied or lashed to a tree by the necks & their eyes put out ... Next morning Moselekatse took his seat with me in my wagon as cheerful as if nothing had happened'.
Moffat's progress with Mzelekaze continues, and he is shown wagons captured from another explorer. There is a further stop, where Moffat receives a parcel of letters, and witnesses more ceremonies, which he does not altogether appreciate ('Their musick was monotonous & dolorous'); he is however impressed by the appearance of the Matabele warriors, with long shields and head-dresses, and skirts which lead him to compare them to Scottish Highlanders. On his departure, the King accompanies him some distance, and assures him that he would like to visit him at Kuruman, 'but I fear I should put the country in an uproar & make the tribes fly'. Moffat's letter touches on the success of Smith's expedition, and the warm reception of other travellers in the area, and concludes with news of the thriving and busy state of his mission in Kuruman.