Motsane Getrude Seabela, Curator: Anthropology, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

Skin-bag bellows, used for blowing air into a fire. (Photograph by author)

Bellows were regarded as the most important component in the work of African smelters and smiths. The iron-smelting process was widely referred to as ‘blowing the bellows’ and competent smiths were known as ‘men skilled in bellows’. Although iron smelting ceased in Africa after the arrival of the Europeans, smithying and forging continued, thence information on the making of bellows for smithies is published intensively.

The two types of bellows that were used for traditional smelting and forging iron found in Southern Africa were skin-bag bellows and drum bellows. Examples of both types of bellows are found and housed in the Anthropology Collection of the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History. They were collected in different parts of Southern Africa such as Zimbabwe and Namibia. The earliest bellows were collected in the 1920s in Venda, northern South Africa.

 Drum bellows                                    Skin-bag bellows (photographs by author

Goat skin was mainly used for making bellows. Conversely, some reports mention the use of antelope skins, especially the skin of the sable antelope. The skin-bag bellows were prevalently used in South Africa as opposed to drum bellows which have been reported to be found largely in Namibia and northern Botswana. A distribution map revealed that skin bellows were used mainly in the eastern part of central and southern Africa. Nonetheless, little is known about drum bellows that were common in tropical Africa, southwards and westwards to the Congo and northern Angola.

Both types of bellows have technical advantages and disadvantages. The drum bellows appeared to be in some respects a more efficient type in that they are easily operated and are durable in handling and in storage. However, their manufacture required the availability of large-diameter hardwood trees and the skill of experienced wood workers. The skin-bag bellows on the other hand could be made from skin and horns, therefore materials were easily available everywhere in Africa. This may explain the high proportion of skin-bag bellows in the poorly wooded regions of Africa south of the Zambezi. The disadvantage of skin-bag bellows is that they have a low resistance to wear and storage and their handling needed much more training and effort, but this may not have counted for much in a labour-intensive economy.

It appears that there was not much difference in the way skins were removed from the animals as the skins were always taken off as a ‘whole’. At times, goats were skinned alive as it was believed it would ‘strengthen the power of the bellows’. In the case of skin-bag bellows, the skin was obtained by first cutting at the hindquarters and pulling the skin over to the neck. Secondly the skin was softened by scraping, pushing, and stretching. The skin would only occasionally be rubbed with tree bark or cattle manure. For any stitching required, a sinew-thread that was pierced into the leather with an awl-like needle, was used. Thereafter, the thread would be inserted with the hand followed by fastening each stitch to make it strong. A wooden handle-valve, consisting of two slats or sticks, was then fastened with leather thongs to the hindquarter incision of the skin bag, and a nozzle. Commonly, a straightened antelope horn from waterbuck, sable antelope, eland, or gemsbok or an ox horn was tightly bound into the neck end. The African leather workers who could make bellows in the traditional way have now disappeared almost as completely as that of the metal smelter. The skill of iron smelting highlights the scientific contribution by Africans.


Friede, H. &  Steel, R. 1977. An experimental study of iron-smelting techniques used in the South African Iron Age.  Journal of South African Institute of Mining and Metallugry: 235.

Friede, H. & Steel, R. 1986. Traditional Wooden Drum Bellows of South-Western Africa. The South African Archaeological Bulletin. 41(143): 12-16.

Murfin, B. 1996. An African Chemistry Connection: Simulating early iron smelting. The Science Teacher. 63 (2): 37.

Kruger House: the legends live on

Kruger House: the legends live on

Mauritz Naudé, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History (15/08/2020)

Even though museums are normally associated with the collection of movable objects such as art, household items, textiles, ceramics, glass and a variety of exclusive manmade things, the opening and reopening of a house museum and a historic building represents something special. What makes such a place special?  Buildings and historic sites cannot be obscured from the public by storing it in a storage facility and it cannot be presented occasionally as part of a formal display. The enjoyment of historic sites and buildings are not incidental events and they are not occasionally exposed to the public eye. They are part of the urban fabric of a city or town. They form part of the historic manmade landscape.

To celebrate a historic site and historic building often signifies the rediscovery of something special: because the place is of cultural significance associated with an event – good or bad, a person of outstanding character or who has contributed to its neighbourhood, city or region and may have represented its community or cultural group in their cause.

The aura of the Kruger house revolves mostly around Paul Kruger the person. Irrespective of the many publications recording the life and times of Kruger, he is still associated with many unrecorded events, myths and legendary moments associated with situations exposing his character and intriguing personal beliefs. These vary from the adventurous (hunting and war stories), to the religious (dogmatic expressions) and from the very personal to events associated with him as statesman (opposing British imperialism). His residence has become a location with a strong sense-of-place, attracting visitors from all over the world.

The dwelling does not reflect the character of a ‘presidency’ but that of a ‘dorpshuis’. Many questions relating to this seeming dichotomy have been asked. We have become used to a perception that the leader of a country would live in a mansion or stately dwelling and the Kruger House does not reflect this perception. During the early part of the 1880s, while Kruger was overseas, plans were proposed for a new ‘presidency’. This was proposed by Alois Nellmapius, an immigrant from Hungary who have negotiated several business concessions with Kruger. He had architectural drawings drafted for the future dwelling for Kruger by an English architect Tom Claridge. The proposed dwelling resembled the architectural style of Europe at the time – a double story Victorian villa with a variety of hipped roofs, an asymmetrical façade with small verandas wrapping around various sides of the building, several turrets along the roof line and elaborate quoining around the doors and windows. The proposal was not approved and the current dwelling is the result of what was decided by Kruger.

Design proposal for the Kruger residence as proposed by the architect T. Claridge.

One of the unique aspects of the Kruger house relates to its location west of Church Square. The location does not reflect the preference of residences of the well-to-do and influential individuals during the time of President Kruger. Other prominent villa-type residences of this period (1880-1889) were characterized by similar architectural characteristics (as first proposed by the Claridge design) such as turrets, multiple storeys and with richly decorated interiors. The most significant of these were all located east of Church Square in Jacob Maré Street (defining the southern boundary of Burghers Park) in an area noted for its more stylish proprietors such as Barton Keep (the residence of Thomas Bourke), Hollard House, Melrose House (of George Heyes) and Parkzicht (owned by Advocate Kleyn). Local residents of Pretoria often wonder why Kruger selected this location. Several reasons for selecting this property come to mind. Kruger owned several properties at this location which he sold. The last of these is the site where his residence is located. These were his personal properties and were not purchased for the erection of a presidency. The use of the site and the dwelling at this location, for the presidency, was almost incidental, but is also an indication of Kruger’s personality probably seeing no need for the existence of a personal abode and a separate presidency.

Another unique aspect of the dwelling is its orientation with its principal façade and entrance towards the south. This elevation eventually became the most photographed side of the dwelling, often with Kruger sitting in a chair conversing with someone. The front or southern veranda became a place where Kruger extended his official duties and it is suggested by several authors that many negotiations of a political and business nature happened here. The orientation of the dwelling was probably not a decision influenced by Kruger but by the simple fact that the house had to be arranged on the erf in such a way that it faced toward Church Street. Church Street was the principal arterial linking the dwelling with Church Square and the old Raadzaal on the Square. Dwellings and businesses were oriented towards the street irrespective of the north-south orientation.

Kruger on the southern side of the dwelling between the two lion statues.

One of the myths surrounding the presidency was that the house was connected to the church across the street via an underground tunnel. The property of the church had two church buildings, the first church erected ca 1880 and a second church erected ca 1898. The older church was located deep onto the church property and when the second church was erected it was placed in between the presidency and the original small church. No one knew which of the churches were allegedly connected to the Kruger residence. The existence of such a tunnel has never been substantiated with any documentary nor archaeological evidence.

Church across the street from the Kruger residence

Another less well-known aspect of the site and early Pretoria’s history was the presence of a water furrow passing in front of the dwelling outside the front gate. Church Street was still a dirt road when Kruger resided in the dwelling, but few historical photographs indicate the presence of a deep water furrow passing in front of the dwelling just outside the boundary wall. Only when some of the pictures are scrutinised in detail, the lined water furrow becomes visible. The depth of the furrow is indicated in one of the old photographs taken in 1900. A cement walkway also led from the front gate to the church across the street. President Kruger had an office in the Old Raadzaal on Church Square and when he was picked up in the morning, or at any other occasion by his state coach, he had to cross the furrow. In order to cross the furrow a concrete platform had to be constructed across the furrow. After complaining that the steps of the coach were too high to get inside, the platform crossing the water furrow had to be lifted directly in front of the gate to the property. With the coach parked in the dirt road the elevated surface allowed him to reach the lowest step of the coach with less effort.


Fixing the water furrow and ramp in front of the Kruger residence.

Two significant features in front of the dwelling are two lions. They seem odd as the lion as a mythical and symbolic animal lion conjures associations and perceptions of colonialism, the British Empire and several other association surrounding statues of lions. In most cultures the lion is regarded as the king of beasts and to symbolise strength, courage, pride fortitude and majesty. In Islamic and Egyptian myth, the lion is believed to protect households or families against evil, and lion sculptures were used to keep watch at doorways or steps. According to Christian legend, the lions sleeps with its eyes open promoting the perception of vigilance and spiritual watchfulness. The significance of the lion made it a favourite emblem of imperial regimes as it also symbolised victory. It was a preferred animal frequently used as decorative animal on objects but also installed in front of buildings associated with the period of Queen Victoria’s Empire. For this reason, the presence of the two lions in front of Kruger’s residence remains dubious. The two lion statues in front of Kruger house were donated to Kruger by Barney Barnato in 1896. The statues were not the choice of Kruger and the real motivation, meaning and appropriateness of the lions in front of the Kruger residence remain a mystery.

One of the lesser–known facts about the Kruger residence is that it also served as a hospital. Kruger lived in the house until 29 May 1900 when he had to leave Pretoria before the approaching British forces. His wife continued to live in the house and died here on 20 July 1901. After Kruger’s death it was used by the British police. In 1904, after the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), relatives of the Kruger family moved into the dwelling. It was occupied by F.C. Eloff, a son in-law of the president. It remained a dwelling until 1908 when it became the first premises of the maternity home of the ‘Bond van Afrikaanse Moeders’ (Later the ‘Moedersbond’).

Kruger’s residence when it was used as a maternity hospital (Source: Küsel postcard collection, Pretoria).




A Missing Heritage Site

A Missing Heritage Site

Sandra Naudé, Editor: DITSONG: Museums of South Africa

The so-called “Convent Redoubt” stood at the corner of Visagie and Koch (now Bosman) Streets in the heart of Pretoria, on land that was later included in the site of the old South African Mint Building, west of the Pretoria City Hall.

After the Mint was privatized and relocated to Midrand, the Mint building remained redundant until renovation and adaptations made it possible for the National Cultural History Museum now the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History to vacate its premises in Boom Street. However, when the new venue opened in 1997 it was used as an exhibition centre of the Museum under the name “African Window” and did not function as a formal museum. After the amalgamation of the National Cultural History Museum (and all its site museums) with the Transvaal Museum and the National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, the African Window ceased to exist and became the head offices of the National Museum of Cultural History (October 2000). This was the first time that the entire Museum with its collections and staff were accommodated in a single building.

After the annexation of the Transvaal by Britain in 1877, Pretoria’s character became that of a garrison town. This was as a result of the unsettled condition of the whole country. At one stage there were about 5 000 troops in the town. Their military camp was situated southwest of the town, as it then was not far from the current City Hall.

The First Boer War of First War of Independence or First Anglo-Boer, was a war fought from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881 between the United Kingdom and Boers of the Transvaal (as the South African Republic was known while under British administration). Pretoria was cut off from the rest of the world and the authorities decided to strengthen its defences. From 22 December 1880 to 6 January 1881, British garrisons all over the Transvaal became besieged.

After the Battle of Bronkhorstspuit in December 1880 it was decided not to defend the town itself and to concentrate on the defence of the camp. A few fortified laagers were put up in the immediate vicinity of the camp. The recently completed prison (where the Museum is today) just behind the City Hall was also used and this was called the Tronklaer or Prison Laager. Adjacent to it and connected to it, the so-called Convent Redoubt was built at the southeast of the property.

Pretoria, and for that reason the military camp was besieged for a hundred days by a force under the command of Gen H. Schoeman. After the Battle of Majuba and the subsequent armistice, the siege was lifted and the British gradually evacuated Pretoria and the camp.

This, however, was not the final incident in the history of the Redoubt. The Jameson Raid took place in collaboration with the so-called “Rand Reformers” at the end of 1895 and the beginning of 1896. After Dr Jameson and his force had been obliged to surrender, sixty-three of the “Reformers” who were arrested in Johannesburg, were imprisoned in the Redoubt.

In the course of time, the area was encroached upon by one building after another so that there is nothing left of the original Redoubt today.

Oberholtzer, J.J. 1972. The Historical Monuments of South Africa. Cape Town: Rembrand van Rijn.

Convent Redoubt, photographed by Ferdinand Gros, a Pretoria resident of Swiss origin who had a photographic studio in the town. (Source: David Saks, The Pretoria theatre of operations
in the first Anglo-Boer War. Military History Journal Vol 16 No 5 – June 2015, p.2).




David Rilley-Harris
Ditsong National Museum of Military History
September 2020

Edged weapons were being developed in the form of handheld sharpened stones since long before we evolved into homo sapiens, but some of the prey they wanted to hunt was too fast, to wary of them, or too dangerous, and so our prehistoric ancestors innovated ways to increase the reach of their weapons by securing the sharpened stones to the end of sticks creating the first spears. As they adapted their weapons to the defences of their targets they also adapted their tactics and skills, surrounding prey, and throwing spears.

In the 21st Century variations on the spear are still being used in combat by the most advanced militaries in the world. Bayonets attached to the end of rifles have been used to break out of ambushes by the Royal Marines and United States Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bayonets on the ends of rifles are simply spears with removable heads. Sword bayonets were popular when swords were still a common weapon of war, and as knives and daggers have taken precedence over swords, knife bayonets have become the standard. Some currently used bayonets are serrated for utility purposes like the AK47 bayonet which can also be used as wire cutters.

AK47 bayonet

As shields and body armour evolved to protect against spears, axes and swords were developed as heavier weapons that could pierce armour, brake shields, or at least work like clubs having enough weight to crush bones lying beneath body armour. The Ethiopian Shotel is an example of a sword which was designed to have enough weight to counter armour and was also curved allowing the sword to be swung around an opponent’s shield. Similarly, African throwing knives were heavy bladed weapons designed to be effective where spears would be too light.

Early iron battle axe head

Ethiopian Shotel

African throwing knife

A creative form of innovation in edged weapons has been the attachment of a frightening reputation to the weapon. Saw-back bayonets are believed to elicit more fear in an enemy than smooth backed bayonets even though the effect of the weapon in battle is much the same. Gurkha Kukri knives were famed for their ability to disembowel a horse with one blow and stories spread through the First World War of Gurkha soldiers slipping into enemy trenches at night and quietly slitting throats. Various edged weapons have been said to contain the spirits of the people they have killed, and Hindu Kris daggers are sometimes believed to be spirits themselves. Superstitions spread the belief that a kukri can kill a person by simply being pointed at them.

Even with rifles having long since become dominant as the primary weapon on battlefields, far more fear has been attached to shanks, machetes, or British cold steel.



15 September 2020



Motsane Getrude Seabela, Curator: Anthropology, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

(Photograph by author)

 The Mapiko masks are associated with the Makonde people of Mozambique and two were donated to the Department of Ethnology (of the former Transvaal Museum) by Mrs W. Parker in June 1944. The masks were collected in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province in Mozambique.

Although the museum masks were collected in Mozambique, it is worth noting that Makonde people also live in Tanzania. The two groups live on the Makonde plateau, but are geographically separated by the Rovuma River and are different socially, in culture and language. Although the masks were donated to the museum while it was still called Transvaal Museum they are currently part of the Anthropological Collection of the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History (Pretoria).

(Photograph by author)

Makonde masks had two form types:  either as a face mask or a helmet. Generally, the face mask covers the face only, is carved in vertical plane and is attached to the head or headdress, by strings passing through holes located along the periphery of the object. Lip plugs may or may not be present, and the eyes and mouth are normally perforated.  The mask displayed here, is made out of light wood, probably nyala wood, but the wood has matured and is now medium to dark brown, presumably from long exposure to light and oxidation. Strips of black beeswax were usually added to the face to represent and accentuate scarification. A circular indented portion, above the forehead contains a textured black coloured area, resembling stained hair. The mask is worn over the   head, tilted slightly backward allowing the wearer to see through the perforated sections for the eyes and teeth (sharpened according to the practice at the time).

(Photographs by author)

Precolonial Makonde sculptors are known for these masks and they are regarded as the most important carved objects associated with initiation ceremonies. They are worn during the Mapiko initiation dance ritual. Each dancer represents a spirit. A member of the men’s secret society would carve the mask and one of the members of this society wear and dance in it during a ceremony held for new initiates. The dancer would masquerade as the spirit of a deceased person. Only the initiated men knew that the dancer was a living member of the community.

The ‘traditional’ carved objects of the Makonde people have mostly been restricted to Mapiko masks. After World War II (1939-1945) new carved objects started to appear as more carvers devoted their time to carving. Due to the demand for ritual objects by Portuguese colonialists, the carvers developed commercial versions of Mapiko masks. Unlike the earlier masks, this mask was not as elaborately decorated, as the scarification was not carefully applied by using beeswax, but created by incisions into the wood. Although the Makonde masks are well-known, little is known about the social and economic contexts in which they are manufactured.


Bennet-Clark, M.A. 1957.  A Mask from the Makonde Tribe in the British Museum. Man. Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 57: 97.

Harries, L. Peera, M. Battiss, W. 1970. Makonde. African Arts 3(3): 3.

West, H.G. Sharpes, S. 2002. Dealing with the Devil: Meaning and the Market Place in Makonde Sculpture. African Arts 35 (3). 34.




Jan van den Bos, Curator Military Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

The book “Band of Brothers” written by Stephen E Ambrose is based on interviews conducted with former members of E Company, 2nd Battalion and 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American Army during World War II. What became clear during the interviews with veterans was their obsession with the German Luger pistol. American soldiers frequently looted fallen German officers of their Lugers. Soon the Germans realised the longing for Lugers and used it to their advantage by booby-trapped the weapon with explosives, utilising it as bait against the Allies.

Today, the Luger still remains one of the most popular weapons of many gun enthusiasts and numerous examples are found in museum collections. The Luger achieved legendary status because it was one of the most advanced semi-automatic pistols of the 20th century with an impressive fire rate of 116 rounds per minute. The average pistol, for example the American Colt, fired 20 to 30 rounds per minute.

The Luger’s firing mechanism was far in advance. The toggle action consists of a series of joints (see illustration below) which extends from the breech lock to the barrel. On firing, the barrel and the breech block are thrusted back by recoil. The locking mechanism slides upwards in grooves on the frame and ejects the spent case.

 Partial section through the Luger P08.

This renowned firearm was also known for its ease of use and powerful blow.

The first patent of the Luger, dated 1900, was based on the toggle- -action design of Hugo Borchardt. Hugo (1844–924) was a firearms inventor and engineer at Magdeburg, Germany. This design is called the Parabellum-Pistole, System Borchardt-Luger. Georg Luger (1849–1923), an Austrian born firearms designer, improved the less functional features on the Borchardt-Luger. The new design was better balanced and angled with the loading action placed to the rear. This improved design was manufactured by the German company Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). In 1904 the German Navy adopted this (first) design as official weapon until the Army agreed to the new and popular 1908 standard side arm version, the Luger P08. Its popularity as military weapon placed a significant demand on production. Many foreign countries such as Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey, were interested in trade or even licence agreements (for manufacturing) with Germany prior to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 and after the war. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles stipulated a restriction in armament production. Germany’s, production was dropped substantially to a 1000 guns per annum.

The P08 remained in the armed force service until 1934 when Adolf Hitler rose to power and introduced a rearmament programme which included among other things, a change in manufacturers. The Mauser Werke in Oberndorf and the Luftwaffe factories in Suhl, Germany, took over the main production of the P08.

Parabellum-Pistole, System Borchardt-Luger.                                                                      Georg Luger (1849-1923), at age 57.

The Luger P08

The Luger P08 is almost identical to the 1904 version except for minor changes to the grip. The majority of P08 fires a 7.65 mm and a 9 mm calibre cartridge with an eight round box magazine. It also uses a 32 cartridge, “snail” magazine known as the Schneckenmagazine. The pistol is also designed to attach a wood shoulder stock for use by non-commissioned officers and shock troops.

The 32 cartridge Schnechenmagazine (“snail magazine”).                                 The P08 with a wood  shoulder stock.

A major drawback of the Luger is the many moving parts of the firing mechanism. In rainy and muddy conditions, especially in the trenches, many malfunctions occurred, which endangered the life of a soldier unnecessarily.

The P08 production discontinued in 1943, but a New York company, A F Stoeger, (amongst others), continued with production until the 1970s.          

The Luger 9mm Parabellum (Left HG 55447-1=2) in the Museum collection was manufactured by DWM Mauser Oberndorf between 1930 and 1934. It has a four-digit serial number and was available in the commercial sales. The second Luger (Right HG 12401) is unfortunately in a poor condition. The only visible codes are 1911 S42. This Luger is probably one of the first examples manufactured for military use based on the Luger`s popularity and the demand for an increase in production. 


Harding, D., Weapons. An international encyclopedia from 5000 BC to 2000 AD. Diagram Visual Information Ltd, London, Johannesburg. 1980.

Https:// – File: Luger_carbine. JPG, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Smith, J.E.(ed), Small arms of the World. A basic manual of small arms. Galahad Book, New York, 1973.