1856 was a bad year for the Xhosa nation of the Wild Coast.
Their lands had been taken by the British, drought had withered their crops, and their prized cattle were dwindling under a mysterious disease.
The people were facing a hard winter when hope came in the shape of a young girl called Nongqawuse, the niece of a prophet. Nongqawuse claimed that the spirits of the ancestors had spoken to her from a pool in the Gxara River.
If the people would only kill all their cattle and burn their crops, a day would come when new cattle and crops would arise along with an army of the ancestors who would drive the whites into the sea.
The "vision" took hold among the desperate people, who followed her orders.
By February 1957 more than 200 000 cattle had been slaughtered and left to rot. All the summer crops had been burnt.
The allotted day dawned and nothing happened. The weakened population began to starve and within a few months more than a third of the entire Xhosa people had died of starvation and disease.
It was easy for the British to take over the remnants of the tattered Xhosa kingdom and imprison the chiefs for their role in this ??genocide??.
Nongqawuse was taken to Robben Island for her own safety but her people were broken.
The 1856 cattle killing has receded into legend and its tragic manifestation is Nongqawuse's pool, which can still be seen on guided tours from the resort of Qolora Mouth on the Strandloper Coast.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nongqawuse for more info.
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