Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Historical Trees of South Africa - The Fingo Milkwood

Every year on the 14th May, Fingo Emancipation Day is celebrated with a ceremony beneath the Fingo Milkwood Tree in the Peddie district of the Eastern Cape.

This is the site where on the 14th May 1835, the Fingo people, in the presence of Rev John Ayliff, the missionary at Butterworth at that time, swore allegiance to the King as well as swearing to educate their children and accept Christianity. The swearing of this oath had far reaching consequences.

The term Fingo or Mfengu is a generic name for a distinct group of associated clans that settled in the Eastern Cape after fleeing from Zululand in the time of King Shaka. Many found work in Hintsa’s country but were constantly maligned with the result that they revolted and joined the British army in 1835.

In the Frontier wars that followed, the Mfengu fought as allies in the cause of Christian civilization, alongside the Colonial forces after which they were rewarded with large areas of Rharbabe land.

Regarding themselves as upholding a great Christian civilization, they viewed themselves as superior to the Xhosa. The Mfengo were the first tribe to be taught to plough and plant wheat by the missionaries as well as being the first to receive formal education.

Various educational institutions such as St Matthews, Lovedale and Healdtown were established as a result and due to their being well educated, the Fingo were able to secure many of the best positions open to Blacks at the time such as teachers, clerks and traders.

The Fingo Milkwood is the third milkwood tree, aside from the Post Office tree at Mossel bay and the Treaty Tree at Woodstock to be proclaimed a National Monument.

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