Did you know?
The Xhosa people introduced cattle to the Wild Coast between 600 and 700 AD.
You’re doing the 14 km ‘slack-pack’ hike from Morgan Bay to Trennery’s, you’re slightly out of shape, more than a little tired and suddenly you’re in the middle of a crazy Wild Coast cattle drive!
Some look like pure-bred Nguni cows, others are more cross-bred and feral, but the world-famous Xhosa beach cattle all bear great sets of horns. And they pass you on the soft sands like dignified, painted warriors on a seaside jaunt.
The international backpackers who flock to this part of the world, drawn by the excellent Wild Coast hiking opportunities, will tell you about their encounters with the marvellous beasts of the amaXhosa.
Visitors usually delight in picturesque towns like Port St Johns and Coffee Bay, the dramatic shoreline and the ‘greatest shoal on Earth’ – the legendary Sardine Run – as it goes seething up the coast.
Many, however, will recount tales of just hanging out on obscure Wild Coast beaches somewhere in the ‘divine company of a cow or two’, or taking interesting photos of horns, sea and sand, all in a single frame. There’s something soothing about the experience, surely one of the most bizarre things one can ever do on a beach.
The cattle, which are usually followed by a young cowherd on foot or horseback, come down to the shores to curl up on the sand, look out at a distant spot on the Indian Ocean horizon, sigh deeply and chew the cud.
Don’t be daunted by their ‘warpaint’ and their size. These beefy beachcombers are usually quite docile and will allow you to buzz around them and take photographs.
The Xhosa herds of old carry a sadder back-story in the form of the infamous ‘cattle killing’ of 1857. It’s a tragic tale involving prophetic visions which caused much of the Xhosa nation to sacrifice its livestock, crops and kraals in the hope of a miraculous rebirth – and freedom from their colonial enemies.