Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Drilling the Death Drill

On board the troopship SS MENDI in late January of 1917 was more than 800 soldiers of the SANLC. Sometime before dawn, while the ship was navigating the English channel, it was nearly cut in two during a collision with the British Steamship SS DARRO.

Hundreds of men were immediately drowned in the freezing waters. Those that weren't jumped into the water or scrambled to the deck of the vessel as it began to roll over and sink.

In the midst of the chaos, a prominent tribal leader, Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha (You decide how to pronounce that. I have no idea), exhorted the men with the following speech:

"Be quite and calm my countrymen, for what is taking place now is what you came here to do. We are all going to die, and that is what we came for.

Brothers, we are drilling the death drill.

I, a Zulu, say here and now that you are all my brothers... Xhosas, Swazis, Pondos, Basotho and all others, let us die like warriors.

We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries my brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais back in the kraals, our voices are left with our bodies..."

After this, many of these warriors kicked off their boots and stomped out their death dance on the deck of that ship and continued with their death chants after they were flung into the water until they finally silenced by hypothermia.

The book of Hebrews reminds us that each of us has an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27). We really have no choice about that. But, we do have a choice in how we live and how we face our death.

Will we live and die with the shout of a war cry, or ..... well, or something else?

For more info about the Mendi tragedy, visit this site: SS MENDI History


SANLC - The soldiers of the South African Native Labor Corps. These were men recruited from the warrior tribes of South Africa (including the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and others) to perform heavy labor in support of the war effort. This labor included essential tasks such as building roads, unloading war supplies and clearing wooded areas.

Assegai - Technically, a spear of javelin. The Zulu's made a short version, with about a 2 foot long shaft and a 1 foot long blade. These were used from behind their shields as an effective stabbing weapon and was later copied by other tribes. Although it was a fairly primitive weapon, it did a number on those it came in contact with, including being used to nearly annihilate a contingency of just over 2,000 British at the battle of Isandlwana in 1879.

Kraal - a rural village in South Africa. usually huts surrounded by a fence. the word originally indicated a corral or livestock pen, which these villages apparently reminded the Boers of when they first saw them .


Agent Pipes said...

I'm not sure how I will die, but I hope I live fulfilling whatever purpose God has for me, like the apple on the Eden tree.

El Cid said...

Agent Pipes. You seem very interested in the story. Have you got a copy of the companion book to "How the Apple Lost it's color"?
I highly recommend it.