The Voortrekkers
The Trekboer (itinerant farmer) way of life - early 1800s.
The Voortrekkers' Way of Life
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Division of Labour

Durban Web Designers' Great TrekNew land for the cattle was not the only reason many of these people moved on. In their blood, there developed a 'trek spirit' or 'trekgees', the hope of a better land over the horizon. Each member of the family knew his or her exact duties.

The women would ride in the wagons, the children and servants would lead the oxen and the men would ride ahead scouting for the night's stopping point. All this time in the saddle taught the men to become proficient horsemen and expert shots. Each day they would be five or ten miles further away from Cape Town.

The people adapted to the vagaries of a nomadic life in Africa. It also enabled the stock to become disease resistant. Each year, they would return to Cape Town to barter skins, ivory, beeswax, to arrange marriages and to buy essentials such as coffee, gunpowder and agricultural implements.

However, they increasingly saw themselves as being different from their countrymen in the town and referred to themselves initially as Afrikanders, then Afrikaners.

Trekker Farms

Occasionally, they constructed simple dwellings of mud walls and dung floors into which whole families (occasionally, several families) would squeeze. The furniture was of the simplest kind with ox skulls being used as stools on the stoep (verandah).

The most useful item was leather, which was used to fashion riems (thongs used on the ox spans and for furniture) and many items of clothing. The life on the veld and the plentiful meat lead these settlers to become physically large with abounding energy, often raising fifteen children. Socializing took the form of card games, gossip and community dancing.

voortrekkers

The farms were essentially cut off from civilization for most of the year. This bred an inherent self-reliance that caused them to approach problems very slowly but when a course of action had been decided upon, to stick with it obstinately.

Because gunpowder was difficult to come by, the men became expert marksmen, making every shot count.

Fighting Tactics

The firearm used by the men was called a snaphaan, a flintlock approximately 5ft long. The standard tactic used when fighting local Africans was for groups of armed Boers to ride up to the group, yet out of assegai range, fire a volley and retire.

The Boers were quite capable of reloading the flintlocks whilst galloping, charging again and still firing at a rate of several shots a minute.

Next . . . The Character of the Voortrekker