The Kafir War, or The Burnt Farm

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The Kafir War, or The Burnt Farm was a circus act performed in Cape Town in late 1850 (October-December) by the "Equestrian Gymnastics", a French circus troupe which visited the city and performed pantomime-performances and dramatised equestrian displays under the auspices of the governor Sir Harry Smith.

Billed as the "Grand Pantomime of The Kafir War, or The Burnt Farm in an advertisement, the performance is described as follows:

"The First Act will represent a living picture of an attack by these Savages on the solitary homestead of a Frontier Farmer, while heroically defending himself, and all that is dear to him; - he is seriously wounded, but still he faces the enemy, till, weak and exhausted, he falls. His House is next plundered and set on fire, and his Family carried off, which renders him so desperate that badly wounded as he is, he vainly tries to rise and save them.

In the Second Act the magnanimity of the British Troops against their Savage enemy will be displayed, who ultimately become the means of restoring to the dying Farmer what is dearer to him than life itself, - his Family!!! In this Act, an opportunity will offer to represent the character and customs of the Chief MACOMO and his people, their Dances and Pleasures." (cit in Hauptfleisch[1]: p. 28)

In his discussion, Hauptfleisch points out that the performance is clearly related to models familiar at the time in England and the United States (e.g. the "military re-enactment" or the "Wild West Show"). However he also suggests this particular extravaganza may be an early example of what he later terms "crossover theatre" in that it does seek to deal equally with the fate of the Dutch farmers and the English soldiers, and includes a look at certain "African" traditions. (In what form one can merely conjecture of course.)


F.C.L. Bosman, 1928[2]: pp. 439-440.

Temple Hauptfleisch (1997)[3]: pp. 27-28.

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