The Bavenda's Sacred Beads
By Eugène Marais

          A small necklace of dark translucent pottery or glass beads, scarcely long enough to span the neck of a grown man, strung on twisted sinew and closed with a tiny metal clasp, the last quite evidently of Bantu manufacture; the whole, as an ornament, apparently not worth as many pence as there are beads on the string. Such is the "great" necklace of the Bavenda which, only a few years ago, was estimated to be worth a king's ransom and was as carefully guarded as if its constituents were graded pearls of priceless value. Unfortunately for its present owners, its value was determined otherwise than by the criterion which places a changeless worth on the rare and beautiful jewels of the world. Today it would hardly purchase the liberty of a captured king -- even of the race for whom it once bore a superstitious value infinitely greater than its intrinsic one.
          There is one other similar necklace in existence, in possession of the petty chief Sebaza; but the one here described is the necklace of the paramount chief, which is held to be an inseparable appendage of Bavenda "royalty". The Sebaza necklace was made from a few beads detached from the "great" necklace and formed part of the political compromise which resulted in the elevation of Sebaza to the sub-chieftaincy, which he still holds.
          Some years ago The Star published certain articles describing this intriguing and mysterious tribe. It is known that they are immigrants from within the Congo basin, and the story of their odyssey from the far north is still preserved in their legends and folk-tales. They relate that their ancestors formed establishments beyond the Zambezi and in Matabeleland, where they resided for several generations before moving on to the Limpopo and then to the region which they still occupy. It is an interesting fact that one of the first things they did was to build a Zimbabwe of dressed stone in Zoutpansberg, the ruins of which still exist. The "temple" was never completed -- for what reason is not known -- but it is known that the growing danger of militant neighbours in the end drove the tribe from the level country into the mountains, where they eventually occupied an impregnable stronghold beyond the Doorn River, which enabled them to bid defiance to all assailants, both Black and White, for several centuries. Under the government of President Kruger they maintained an absolute indeperidence during the lifetime of the Chief Magato. It was under the chieftaincy of his son, M'Pefu, that the virgin fortress was captured for the first time and the race brought under White subjection.
          The existence of the "sacred" beads and the importance which the tribe attached to them was known to most White people who had come into contact with them. It is related that these beads were brought with the Bavenda from the Congo and were passed by the paramount chiefs from father to son as the supreme emblem of kingship. A later story is that the beads in the possession of Sebaza were recognised by a White traveller as extremely rare ornaments, a few of which had been found in the Congo by anthropologists. They are said to be of ancient Egy