Saturday, March 17, 2007

Head Hunters

1835 - King Hintsa, the Paramount Chief of the AmaXhosa, is illegally captured under a flag of truce and the pretext of peace negotiations by the military troops of the Cape Governor, Sir Benjamin D'Urban. Both the Governor and his Colonel, Sir Harry Smith, who unsuccessfully try to force him, under the threat of being hanged, to convince the AmaXhosa to surrender to the colonial government during the Sixth War of Dispossession, interrogate him for days. They murder him while he "attempts to escape." His ears (and head??) are taken as trophy. South African History Online

1996 - A delegation of Eastern Cape traditional healers and chiefs commanded by a vision-inspired Chief Nicholas Gcaleka, who says South Africa can only be free from violence and corruption once the head of the late Xhosa warrior King Hintsa is returned from Britain, has left to conduct the search. Gcaleka is the descendent of the former warrior king Hintsa. He also believes the violence and corruption plaguing the new democratic South Africa is because the head of Hintsa, taken by British soldiers, needs to be afforded a decent burial.

1996 - Gcaleka, a South African witch doctor, proclaimed his recent trip to Scotland a success. He was looking for the skull of his great-great uncle, King Hintsa. Hintsa was shot to death in the early 19th century Cape Colony Wars by a British soldier who brought the head to Scotland as a trophy. According to Gcaleka, the "spirit of a hurricane" told him the skull was in a forest near a white pony. He reportedly found the head in a cottage in a forest, with a white horse grazing nearby. Cottage-owner Charles Brooke said that he had had the skull for six years. "Before that it was in our gamekeeper's house, and we understand it possibly had some family link with the army in Africa," Brooke said. According to Gcaleka, if he brings the skull back home, peace will come to South Africa.

2001 - The University of Cape Town has found itself at the centre of a legal battle over a controversial skull. The Mail and Guardian newspaper reports (4/2/00) that an Eastern Cape sangoma (healer) has taken legal action to retrieve a skull from the University that he believes is that of the 19th century Xhosa king, Hintsa. However, forensic specialist Professor Deon Knobel says the skull is that of an "old white woman" and that he is being driven "nuts" by the persistence of the sangoma, Chief Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka.

Gcaleka initially was led by a vision to Scotland in 1996 where he found the skull which he claimed was the head of Hintsa, who was decapitated by British colonial troops in 1835. He brought it back to South Africa only to incur the wrath of the Xhosa royal family who accused him of being a fake and had the skull confiscated from him by Transkei police. The skull was then analysed by leading palaeoanthropologists Philip Tobias and Alan Morris who declared that itl was probably that of a "woman, most consistent with native variations of the Hibernian peninsula…and it doesn't fit the African spectrum".

Under South Africa's Human Tissue Act the private possession of human body parts or skeletal remains is forbidden and so the skull is being housed by UCT"s forensic medicine department where it can only be used for academic purposes. Nonetheless Chief Gcaleka is adament he wants it back so that it can be given a proper traditional burial.

British Museum's Holdings of Human Artifacts

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