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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Mary Elizabeth Barber   [after February 1867]1

Answers to some of the queries about expression in the Native races of S. Africa2

No. 1. By the Kafir and Fingoe tribes3 astonishment is expressed by a serious look and by placing the right hand upon the mouth at the same time uttering the word Mawo! which means wonderful

No. 2. I have never observed a blush of any kind upon the dark colord skins of either Kafirs or Fingoes.

No. 3. I have never seen a Kafir or Fingoe clench his fists, they do not fight with their fists.

No. 11. Yes, in very much the same way as in Europeans. I have often heard it said of Kafirs and Fingoes that they were pale with rage or fear.

No. 12— Yes. they frequently laugh until the tears run down their cheeks, especially the women.

No. 13. I have never seen a Kafir or Fingoe shrug his shoulders or extend outwardly the palms of his hands.

No. 14. When Kafirs or Fingoes are sulky their lips are protruded and eyes cast down.

No. 15— Yes. their faces are very expressive and a guilty look can easily be detected.

No. 16— No. the sign used by Kafirs and Fingoes to keep silent is by gently waving the right hand backwards and forwards just below the face, on the right hand side, with the hand open and the palm turned slightly downwards, while the expression of the face is very serious.

No 19— I am not quite sure about the head being nodded vertically in affirmation but I have never seen it shaken lateraly in negative

My observations only apply to the Kafir and Fingoe tribes, with the other numerous races I have had no intercouse and know nothing of their manners and customs.

M. E. Barber

CD annotations

End of letter: Sent through Mr J. P. Manson Weale.4


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 February [1867] (see CD annotation, and n. 4, below).
For the questions, see the enclosure to the letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 February [1867]. In 1867, Barber was residing on a farm near Grahamstown, Cape Colony (now the Eastern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa; see Gunn and Codd 1981, p. 87). CD referred to Barber’s replies in Expression, pp. 22, 269, 289. See also Shanafelt 2003, pp. 829–30.
For the term ‘Kafir’, see the letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 February [1867] and n. 3. ‘Fingoe’ refers to refugee groups of indigenous South Africans who were driven from Natal into the Eastern Cape Province by colonial authorities and missionaries in the 1820s (OED and Shanafelt 2003, p. 830). For nineteenth-century western perceptions of native South Africans, see Dubow 1995. See also Stocking 1987.
Barber may have received the list directly or indirectly from James Philip Mansel Weale. He did not mention her as one of the recipients in his letter to CD of 7 July 1867; however, he did mention giving the list to Barber’s brother, James Henry Bowker, and Bowker may have passed it on to Barber.


Dubow, Saul. 1995. Scientific racism in modern South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Shanafelt, Robert. 2003. How Charles Darwin got emotional expression out of South Africa (and the people who helped him). Comparative Studies in Society and History 45: 815–42.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan.


Replies to Queries on expression based on observations of the Kaffir and Fingoe tribes in South Africa.

Letter details

Letter no.
Mary Elizabeth Bowker/Mary Elizabeth Barber
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 40
Physical description
ALS 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5745,” accessed on 24 February 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15