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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. P. M. Weale to J. N. Lockyer   [January 1873]1

To the Editor of Nature

As I observe you permit a wide latitude of subjects in your paper I trust the following notes on Zoological & Botanical subjects in this Colony may find admission2

Expression in Kafirs & Hottentots

The following observations were made too late for transmission to Mr. Darwin3

1. Is astonishment expressed by the eyes & mouth being opened wide, & by the eyebrows being raised?

In Kafirs (Amakosa)4 eyebrows raised, & a slight whistle at the price of an article. Sometimes by the interjection “Q-how,” an expression rapidly made use of by Europeans much in contact with them.

2. Does shame excite a blush &c?

I have never observed this, but when sick, dead-drunk, or in great terror Kafirs turn a greenish brown tint, which extends over the face & neck, & they are able to do this also when feigning sickness.

3. When a man is indignant or defiant does he frown, hold his body & head erect square his shoulders & clench his fists? I have observed Kafirs do all but the last.

4. When considering deeply on any subject or trying to understand any puzzle does he frown or wrinkle the skin beneath the lower eyelids?

Frowns with head bent slightly forward & hand not unseldom placed over the mouth.

5. I have been unable to get an answer to this question on grief although I have shown the photograph of the girl sent to me by Mr. D. to several intelligent natives & have had no opportunity of personally determining it.5

6. When in good spirits do the eyes sparkle with the skin a little wrinkled round & under them, & with the mouth a little drawn back in the corners?

Yes. The mouth is so far drawn back as to show all the front teeth.

12. Is laughter ever carried to such an extreme as to bring tears into the eyes?

Yes. Both among Hottentots (more or less half breeds) & Kafirs, especially with the former when drunk or under the influence of “Dakka”6

17. Is the head nodded vertically in affirmation & shaken laterally in negation?

Yes among Kafirs.

The above observations have been made on Kafirs more or less brought up in the neighbourhood of Europeans and belonging either to Toise’s or Sandilli’s tribes.7

It is curious to notice how constantly natives use their teeth, where a European would make use of his hands.

Thus to undo a knot in a riem,8 to bend a piece of wire or even extract a nail a Kafir will often have recourse to his teeth.

Both men & women, but especially the latter use them & their nails in fighting. About a year ago one of Toise’s sons was brought before the magistrate for biting off a man’s finger in a quarrel, & I have often seen men thus injured. I once witnessed a most disgusting fight between two Kafir women in which the one bit a large piece from the breast of another

CD annotations

2.1 As … tribes. 19.2] crossed pencil
22.2 About … another 22.5] crossed pencil
Top of the letter: ‘Jan 1873 | J. P. Mansell Weale | Brooklyn near King Williamstown Kaffraria9—’ pencil


The date is established by CD’s annotation.
Weale’s letter was not published in Nature.
CD sent Weale, who lived in South Africa, his Queries on expression in 1867, and Weale distributed copies (Correspondence vol. 15, letter to J. P. M. Weale, 27 February [1867], and letter from J. P. M. Weale, 7 July 1867). Weale answered individual questions in his later letters.
Amakosa: i.e. Xhosa.
CD sent the photograph with his letter of 27 August [1867] (Correspondence vol. 15). For the published version of the photograph, see Expression, plate II, fig. 3 (facing p. 178). CD’s question was: ‘When in low spirits are the corners of the mouth depressed & the inner corner or angle of the eyebrows raised & contracted by that muscle which the french call the grief muscle?’
In the nineteenth century, the term Kafir was usually used to refer to some groups of the Xhosa people of south-eastern Africa, while Hottentot was usually used to refer to peoples of south-western Africa (the Khoikhoi); for nineteenth-century uses of the terms Hottentot and Kafir, see Stocking 1987, Dubow 1995, and S. J. Gould 1997. Dakka: Cannabis sativa, used as a narcotic (OED s.v. dagga).
Weale had sent CD answers to his queries written by Christian Gaika, brother to Sandile, paramount chief of the Rarabe (Correspondence vol. 15, letter from J. P. M. Weale, 7 July 1867 and n. 6).
Riem: rawhide thong (Chambers).
Kaffraria was in what is now the Transkei in South Africa (Columbia gazetteer of the world).


Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. The mismeasure of man. Revised and expanded edition. London: Penguin Books.

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.

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


On expression among Kaffirs and Hottentots.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Philip Mansel Weale
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 44
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8716,” accessed on 13 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21