The Bechuana Boy

Original Text: 
Thomas Pringle, African Sketches (London: Edward Moxon, 1834): 1-8. 010097.e.63 British Library
2    And looked across the Desert dun,
3Beneath the cloudless firmament
4        Far gleaming in the sun,
5When from the bosom of the waste
6A swarthy Stripling came in haste,
7With foot unshod and naked limb;
9With open aspect, frank yet bland,
10    And with a modest mien he stood,
11Caressing with a gentle hand
12        That beast of gentle brood;
13Then, meekly gazing in my face,
14Said in the language of his race,
15With smiling look yet pensive tone,
16"Stranger -- I'm in the world alone!"
17"Poor boy!" I said, "thy native home
19Why hast thou left it, boy! to roam
21His face grew sadder while I spoke;
22The smile forsook it; and he broke
23Short silence with a sob-like sigh,
24And told his hapless history.
25"I have no home!" replied the boy:
27And raised their wolfish howl of joy,
28        While o'er our huts the flame
29Resistless rushed; and aye their yell
30Pealed louder as our warriors fell
31In helpless heaps beneath their shot:
32-- One living man they left us not!
33"The slaughter o'er, they gave the slain
34    To feast the foul-beaked birds of prey;
35And, with our herds, across the plain
36        They hurried us away --
37The widowed mothers and their brood.
38Oft, in despair, for drink and food
39We vainly cried: they heeded not,
40But with sharp lash the captive smote.
41"Three days we tracked that dreary wild,
42    Where thirst and anguish pressed us sore;
43And many a mother and her child
44        Lay down to rise no more.
45Behind us, on the desert brown,
46We saw the vultures swooping down:
47And heard, as the grim night was falling,
48The wolf to his gorged comrade calling.
49"At length we heard a river sounding
50    'Midst that dry and dismal land,
51And, like a troop of wild deer bounding,
52        We hurried to its strand --
53Among the maddened cattle rushing;
54The crowd behind still forward pushing,
55Till in the flood our limbs were drenched,
56And the fierce rage of thirst was quenched.
58    In turbid streams was sweeping fast,
60        Loud snorting as we passed;
61But that relentless robber clan
62Right through those waters wild and wan
63Drove on like sheep our wearied band:
64-- Some never reached the farther strand.
65"All shivering from the foaming flood,
66    We stood upon the stranger's ground,
67When, with proud looks and gestures rude,
68        The White Men gathered round:
69And there, like cattle from the fold,
70By Christians we were bought and sold,
71'Midst laughter loud and looks of scorn --
72And roughly from each other torn.
73"My Mother's scream, so long and shrill,
74    My little Sister's wailing cry,
75(In dreams I often hear them still!)
76        Rose wildly to the sky.
77A tiger's heart came to me then,
78And fiercely on those ruthless men
79I sprang. -- Alas! dashed on the sand,
80Bleeding, they bound me foot and hand.
81"Away -- away on prancing steeds
82    The stout man-stealers blithely go,
83Through long low valleys fringed with reeds,
84        O'er mountains capped with snow,
85Each with his captive, far and fast;
86Until yon rock-bound ridge we passed,
87And distant stripes of cultured soil
88Bespoke the land of tears and toil.
89"And tears and toil have been my lot
90    Since I the White Man's thrall became,
91And sorer griefs I wish forgot --
92        Harsh blows, and scorn, and shame!
93Oh, Englishman! thou ne'er canst know
94The injured bondman's bitter woe,
95When round his breast, like scorpions, cling
96Black thoughts that madden while they sting!
97"Yet this hard fate I might have borne,
98    And taught in time my soul to bend,
99Had my sad yearning heart forlorn
100        But found a single friend:
101My race extinct or far removed,
103But each to whom my bosom turned
104Even like a hound the black boy spurned.
105"While, friendless thus, my master's flocks
106    I tended on the upland waste,
108        By wolfish wild-dogs chased:
109I rescued it, though wounded sore
110And dabbled in its mother's gore;
111And nursed it in a cavern wild,
112Until it loved me like a child.
113"Gently I nursed it; for I thought
114    (Its hapless fate so like to mine)
116        To bid me not repine, --
117Since in this world of wrong and ill
118One creature lived that loved me still,
119Although its dark and dazzling eye
120Beamed not with human sympathy.
121"Thus lived I, a lone orphan lad,
122    My task the proud Boor's flocks to tend;
123And this poor fawn was all I had
124        To love, or call my friend;
125When suddenly, with haughty look
126And taunting words, that tyrant took
127My playmate for his pampered boy,
128Who envied me my only joy.
129"High swelled my heart! -- But when a star
130    Of midnight gleamed, I softly led
131My bounding favourite forth, and far
132        Into the Desert fled.
133And here, from human kind exiled,
134Three moons on roots and berries wild
135I've fared; and braved the beasts of prey,
136To 'scape from spoilers worse than they.
138    The tidings that thy tents were near;
139And now with hasty foot I've sought
140        Thy presence, void of fear;
141Because they say, O English Chief,
142Thou scornest not the Captive's grief:
143Then let me serve thee, as thine own --
144For I am in the world alone!"
145Such was Marossi's touching tale.
146    Our breasts they were not made of stone:
147His words, his winning looks prevail --
148        We took him for `our own.'
149And One, with woman's gentle art,
150Unlocked the fountains of his heart;
151And love gushed forth -- till he became
152Her Child in every thing but name.


1] Bechuana: peaceful native tribe "inhabiting the country between the Orange and Zambezi rivers in Southern Africa, speaking Tswana (formerly called Sechuana), a Bantu language" (OED).
"`Ik ben alleenig in de waereld!' was the touching expression of Marossi, the Bechuana orphan boy, in his broken Dutch, when he first fell accidentally under my protection, at Milk River in Camdeboo, in September 1825. He was then apparently about nine or ten years of age, and had been carried off from his naked country by the Bergenaars. He was sold to a Boor (for an old jacket!), only a few months previously, when the kraal or hamlet of his tribe had been sacked by those banditti in the manner described in the text" (Pringle's note, p. 501). Marossi later accompanied Pringle to England, where he was baptized in 1827 and died shortly afterwards. Back to Line
8] springbok: "A species of antelope, Antilope euchore, abounding in South Africa, characterized by a habit of springingalmost directly upwards when excited or disturbed" (OED).The springbok was a piece of "poetical licence" (Pringle's note, p. 501). Back to Line
18] Stormberg blue: major mountain range. Back to Line
20] Karroo: "an arid desert, about three hundred miles in length, by from seventy to eighty in breadth; bounded by the Sneeuwberg and Nieuwveld ridges of mountains on the north, and by the Zwartberg, or Black Mountain ridge, on the south" (Pringle's note, p. 501). Back to Line
26] Bergenaars: bandits.
"came." in original. Back to Line
57] Gareep: the Great Orange River. Back to Line
59] Huge: "Hugh" in original.
sea-cows: hippopotamuses. Back to Line
102] Boor: the boer, Dutch colonist. Back to Line
107] this fawn: the springbok. Back to Line
115] Utíko: the native God, "derived from the Hottentot word 'Tíko, which is said literally to signify `The Beautiful'" (Pringle's note, p. 502). Back to Line
137] Bushman: Dutch term for natives living in the wilderness. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Friendship's Offering (1830). AY 13 .F7 Robarts Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.