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Kraal: strictly, an enclosure for cattle, often for those associated with indigenous South African settlements, sometimes used, considered disrespectfully, as a synecdoche for the entire settlement. Now used in association with any stockade for animals.

Some historical notes:

The securing of kraals was considered of particular importance in the Eastern Frontier:

'Throughout the whole Colony it is highly necessary to secure the herds and flocks at night, in folds and kraals fenced round generally with a strong hedge of mimosa or other thorny bushes.'1

Alexander himself refers to the native techniques of the defences of the kraals:

'They keep one or more bundles of dry mountain grass near their kraals, and when danger is supposed to be near, the bundle is lighted; it burns for considerable time, throwing a brilliant light for many yards round, and discovers the enemy.'2

Other defences of cattle had been noted by travellers through the district. Thompson3, speaking of Theopholis, the mission to the "Hottentots" near the mouth of the Kasouga, noted

'This place had been repeatedly attacked ... during the late war, but had been successfully defended by the vigilance and intrepidity of its Hottentot inhabitants; who, for the security of their numerous cattle, ..., had industriously fenced the common kraal of their village with a very strong lofty palisade. The stakes of this fence, consisting chiefly of Caffer boom (Erythrina caffra) which grows abundantly struck root, and thrown out flourishing branches, which gave the palisade an uncommon and agreeable effect.

Campbell4 notes that at Theopholis, additional to the palisade of coral trees which had each post planted fifty to seventy-five millimeters apart so that fire could be delivered from between them:

'they have form [sic] a projection from the middle of each side from which they can fire upon such as may advance up to the fortification.'

If we may indulge in the liberty of a botanical and etymological digression , let us consider why the name Erythrina caffra? Linnaeus arbitrarily formed erythrina, a noun, from the Greek adjective erythrinos, "red", a bending of his own rules of nomenclature. Caffra refers to the fact that the tree is 'shrouded in superstition and many Africans will not burn the wood for fear of attracting lightning.'5 Why the alternative common name "coral tree"? When it is understood that the timber was used by the Khoi to make 'kraals'

'kraal. 2. an enclosure for livestock in Southern Africa - [Afrikaans, "enclosure for cattle," from Portuguese curral, perhaps of Hottentot origin. See also corral]'

'corral 1. an enclosure for confining livestock, against attack during encampment. [Spanish, probably of Hottentot origin. See also kraal.]'6

and the etymological link discovered, then the alternative name 'coral tree' may well derive from the name used for the tree in the Khoi tongue.7

The Settlers then developed their own improvements of the native defences by adding bastions to the kraals.

'This way of building customary here is used because every corner of the kraal can be reached with a gun if they should be raided by Bushmen, and so that wolves and other beasts of prey cannot reach the sheep at night and they are able to protect their animals without endangering their lives.'8

  1. Thompson, 1962: 28
  2. GTJ. 20 August 1835. Supplement
  3. Thompson, 1962: 18
  4. Campbell, Diary manuscript copy Africana Library Johannesburg, 238 quoted in Lewcock, 1963: 168
  5. Moll, E. (Ed.) 1983. Keith Coates Palgrave’s Trees of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik: 328
  6. Morris, W. [Ed.] 1970. The American heritage dictionary of the English language. Boston: American Heritage & Houghton Mifflin
  7. This was dicussed with Johannes van der Walt, Professor emeritus at the University of the Free State and leading mucological taxonomist, who finds it not improbable. He cites ‘guarrie’ (Afr. ghwarrie, i.e. Euclea undulata) as being another of the common names derived from the Khoi, as is dagga (either the indigenous Leonotis leonuris, or the exotic Cannabis sativa [le Roux, S. Vormgewende invloede op die ontwikkeling van moskee-argitektuur binne die heilige sirkel aan die Kaap tot 1950 Pretoria: Ongepubliseerde PhD (Arch) tesis: 64]
  8. Jooste, N. J. s.a. Versterkte plase in die Fort Beaufort-distrik en omgewing. BA (Hons), University of Fort Hare: 14

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Barville Park, Eastern Cape - Photographer: Roger Fisher'>