Hintsa kaKhawutu, King of the Xhosa

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About Hintsa kaKhawutu, King of the Xhosa

Hintsa ka Khawuta (1789 – 12 February 1835)

, also known as Hintsa the Great or King Hintsa, was the 4th paramount Chief of the Gcaleka sub-group of the Xhosa nation from 1820 until his death in 1835.

Hintsa was the second eldest son of Khawuta ka Gcaleka, the second chief of the Gcaleka people. His father was in turn the eldest son of Gcaleka ka Phalo. Hintsa had 4 known sons, Sarili ka Hintsa (1810) from his first wife Nomsa kaGambushe Tshezi and Ncaphayi ka Hintsa, Manxiwa ka Hintsa and Lindinyura ka Hintsa from an unknown second wife.

King Hintsa's Death Invited to peace talks by Governor Harry Smith, the British demanded 50 000 cattle in compensation for the 1834 war, and that Hintsa tell all Xhosa chiefs to stop fighting the British. Hintsa was then held captive until the terms were met. Hintsa sent word to Maqoma, his military commander, telling him to hide the cattle.[1] On May 12, 1835 Hintsa, who was about 45, was riding as a prisoner in the company of British soldiers led by Governor Harry Smith. Noel Mostert in his "Frontiers:The Epic of South Africa's Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People" tells the story [1] Hintsa was being guarded on the ride back over the Kei and the Fish by a corps of guides led by George Southey. Soon after breakfast, Hintsa asked Smith: “What have the cattle done that you want them? Why must I see my subjects deprived of them?” To which Smith replied, “That you know far better than I do.” Soon after that Hintsa spurred his horse forward and galloped away. Smith gave chase and twice tried to fire on the fleeing monarch. Twice his pistols malfunctioned but he caught Hintsa and pushed him off his horse. Hintsa got up and ran, still carrying his assegai. “Shoot, George, and be damned to you,” cried Smith to Southey. Southey fired and hit Hintsa in the leg but still he ran. Southey fired again. Hintsa was again hit but ran into a stream. “Be damned to you,” cried Smith to Southey, “Shoot again.” By this time Hintsa was in deep water and couldn’t stand properly. He threw his spear but it landed harmlessly near Southey, who took aim again. “Mercy,” cried the King. And again. “Mercy.” But there was to be no mercy. Southey, whose Xhosa was fluent, fired, and hit Hintsa in the head, killing him. Southey got to the body first and took off Hintsa’s brass body ornaments for himself. Others grabbed for his beads and bracelets. Southey or his brother William cut off one of Hintsa’s ears as a trophy and someone else cut off the other. A doctor travelling with them was seen trying to pull out some of Hintsa’s teeth. Later, even Smith could no longer bear the barbarity he had caused and ordered Hintsa’s body dropped from his horse and to be left in the bush for his followers to find. Hintsa was captured by the British during the Cape Frontier Wars 1835 and in extenuating circumstances was shot and killed trying to escape resulting in him becoming a martyr for the Xhosa people. His body was subsequently whose body was dismembered by troops in search of grisly momentoes and that his head had been preserved and taken back to Britain." In his reign as king he had 11 sub-chieftaincies and had about 10 (Today known as Eastern Cape area).



Hintsa in the Sixth Frontier war (1834–1836)

The Sixth Frontier War is known as "Hintsa's War" by the Xhosa. Hintsa did not instigate the war and, although he gave support to the Xhosa armies which were involved, it was Chief Maqoma who was the primary leader of the Xhosa forces. However of the whole war, Hintsa's murder at the hands of the British authorities became the main feature and point of anger in the memory of the Xhosa.

The treaty: British governor Sir Benjamin d'Urban believed that Hintsa ka Khawuta, Paramount-Chief of the Gcaleka Xhosa, commanded authority over all of the Xhosa tribes and therefore held him responsible for the initial attack on the Cape Colony, and for the looted cattle. D'Urban came to the frontier in December 1834, and led a large force across the Kei river to confront Hintsa at his residence and dictate terms to him. The terms dictated that all the country from the Cape's prior frontier, the Keiskamma River, as far as the Great Kei River was annexed as the British "Queen Adelaide Province", and its inhabitants declared British subjects. A site for the seat of province's government was selected and named King William’s Town. The new province was declared to be for the settlement of loyal tribes, rebel tribes who replaced their leadership, and the Fengu (known to the Europeans as the "Fingo people"), who had recently arrived fleeing from the Zulu armies and had been living under Xhosa subjection. Magistrates were appointed to administer the territory in the hope that they would gradually, with the help of missionaries, undermine tribal authority. Hostilities finally died down in 17 September 1836, after having continued for nine months.

The killing of Paramount-Chief Hintsa: Originally assured of his personal safety during the treaty negotiations, Hintsa rapidly found himself held hostage and pressured with massive demands for cattle "restitution". He attempted to escape at the Nqabarha River but was pursued, pulled off his horse and immobilized with shots through the back and the leg. Immediately, a soldier named George Southey (brother of colonial administrator Sir Richard Southey) came up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. His ears were cut off after his death and these actions shocked the British Government in London very severely, leading them to condemn and repudiate Governor D’Urban. Hintsa's murder was a cause of much bitter anger among the Xhosa for decades after.



  • Peires, JB: ‘The House of Phalo’. 1981, Raven Press, Johannesburg, SA
  • Mostert, Noel: ‘Frontiers’. 1992, Jonathan Cape, London